Yesterday, Matthew Melnyk (@matthewmelnyk) spotted a Facebook Group linking to 16 other Facebook Groups targetting applicants to Canadian universities. There are many reasons why it is suspected that these groups are not only run by marketers who are pretending to be students, but also have malicious intent in mind. Bottom line, now is a critical time to search for your school name on Facebook and see who is using it to target your audiences.
What are 2013 groups?
In 2007 it was pretty obvious that higher ed applicants wanted to connect with others that were considering the same schools. Some student figured Facebook was a neat place to do this and created a group called <School Name> Class of 2011. By the end of the recruitment cycle there were hundreds of Class of 2011 groups, one for almost every college in North America and each with hundreds of members. In 2008 we had Class of 2012 groups, and now we have Class of 2013 groups.
In December, I went away on vacation (woah!) and came back to tens if not hundreds of Class of 2013 Facebook Groups created by fake accounts posing as soon-to-be freshmen. 1,000s of students were joining these groups. Now, really this is brilliant, because now party behind this (collegeprowler.com) happens to be in the education business and now has sleuth access to the Facebook inboxes of all the students that have joined these groups – again this is thousands of high school seniors and other incoming college students.
@bradjward, education blogger extra-ordinaire, and one of the forces behind BlueFuego.com, picked up on the fact that groups were being administrated by fake students. With some amazing use of twitter, google docs and other collaboration tools, within about 24 hours he and other higher education colleagues were able to make the connection to collegeprowler.com, and Facebook deleted all of the groups created by these fake accounts literally overnight.
Yesterday, I get out of back to back meetings and find this on Twitter:
Here is the link he is referring to:
This group lists Class of 2013 groups, each affiliated with a major Canadian university.
Let’s talk about Brock
Earlier this year, there were two Facebook Groups tagged Brock 2013. Both of them had less than 5 members. My advice to the school was to contact both group administrators and ask if a school rep could be appointed as a group administrator – to provide official content when valuable. One group appointed a school rep as admin and the group grew from 2 members (the creator and school rep) to now 744 members.
The Second Group
The second group was not interested in participation from a school rep, which is fine. It had 2 members and the other Brock group was growing healthily. It was interesting to note though, that both the creator and administrator of this other group were Brock alumni – not Brock applicants. One of them was in fact a local landlord who worked mostly with student rentals. There was no obvious spam from this person that I could see on the page, but still his interests are questionable. Especially when a month or so later I started receiving group updates from a St. Catherine’s student rentals Facebook Group that I had never heard of, let alone joined.
The same individual was an administrator of a Class of 2012 group that collected almost 2,000 members.
FacebookGate vs Brock
The first link on the Grads of 2009 Facebook Group is to Brock University – but not to the happy community of 700+ prospects. Instead it links to a group with only one member, claiming to be “real” and that Brock is interfering with student groups and having them deleted:
“Brock staff (namely Matthew Melnyk) have been trying to get control over brock facebook groups. And when the student creators dont make them admins they file copyright claims to facebook and get the groups DELETED.”
According to Matthew, the staff member being attacked, there have been individuals spamming the 700+ member 2013 group aggressively:
“I have been in a battle with some of these accounts for over a month now (as is evidenced by their annoyance at me evident in the fake Brock 2013 group).
I dealt with spam on our group posted nearly every ½ hour by dummy accounts hoping to mislead Brock students to join their group. I reported them, and their group to facebook who eventually acted. Unfortunately, it’s a bit like wack-a-mole. One dummy account goes down, another pops up.”
Why is Grads of 2009 FacebookGate Round 2?
Let’s start with the group Grads of 2009. The administrator, “Joe Ally,” has no network, no friends and no Send Message or Add As Friend functions on his profile. Every profile has these unless they are important enough of a person for Facebook to build them their very own profile different from what the rest of us get.
Now let’s look at the groups that Grads of 2009 is linking to.
This group seems to use language in tune with an actual Mac applicant. It has links to macinsiders.com, which I believe is a student run site (but not university run). But I do notice that the admin is from New York. Totally possible. If you look back to the Brock 2013 group attacking Matthew, you’ll notice that its admin is also from New York.
Comments on the group date back to the beginning of March, and the “first” comment has to do with needing admins for the group. I see this again on other groups.
When I click the SFU 2009 link provided by Grads of 2009, I get the above screen. I’ve got a flag here because I’m getting an error, and I’m also getting a flag because it says “Event” unavailable – when i was trying to load a group.
Above we have the Trinity Western University group that Grads of 2009 links to. We have an admin from Ottawa, which feels good to me. We also have only 21 members and a Group name that has just about every keyword in the book – which says marketer to me. I’m also noticing that their oldest comment is May 8th – not that long ago. This is a new group.
Here on the UBC group, we have an admin who has disabled communication features (totally logical, lots of normal people do this – so not a bad sign).
The WLU group link gives a similar error message to SFU.
With the Queen’s group, I’m seeing a title stuffed with key words (two spellings of Queens, two ways of saying 2009/2013). I’m seeing a tacky display image that looks A LOT like the one on the angry Brock group. And I’m noticing the admin’s name. I’m also noticing the language “Post a photo and introduce yourself” – which is also on the Brock group.
The Ryerson group has the same admin from Ottawa that is running the TWU group, and the second admin is Joe Ally (Mr. Fake Profile /w no add as friend or send message features, remember?). Also, if you read the group description the first paragraph is the same as on the UBC group above. Read further and see how aggressively the group is pushing members to 1) virally spread the group to friends, and 2) post a picture (same as Queens and Brock). The final paragraph even says that anyone who spams the group on other Ryerson/2013 groups will get promoted to administrator status.
The McGill group shouts out that the other groups are spam (even though they were deleted 4 months ago) and details the first FacebookGate and even links to @bradjward‘s blog. Check out who the admin is though: same girl that runs Queens. I want to believe she is legit, because unlike Joe Ally her profile does have the usual Add/Message features. But remember that Queens used the same language as other groups?
All in all, I think the McMaster group is legit. The Ryerson, Brock and UBC groups are definitely not. And the others, might just be entangled/tricked by whatever the fake account holders have been saying behind closed inboxes. I find this incredibly disheartening. Students used technology to satisfy a social goal (meet other soon-to-be-classmates). In December, collegeprowler.com took advantage of the trend and now it is happening again. I have no idea what Facebook is supposed to do – as Matthew said, people who are deleted just sign back up again under new names. It’s just so frustrating to see such a great user innovation get infected by sneak marketers, to the point where eventually the trend will die because the groups are unreliable. Maybe this will lead to a rise in private applicant communities run by each institution? Brock already has one, and the 2009 E-Expectations report found that 75% of respondents believed schools should offer invite only communities for applicants.
If you are reading this, and are an admin on any of these groups, or have any insight, please post a comment or email me – I would love to have a clearer picture of what is actually happening hear.