There’s something going down on Facebook. Pay attention.

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Alumni, Blogging, Community, Concepts, Ethics, Facebook, Higher Education, Marketing, Research, Social Media, Strategy, Technology, Thoughts, Viral, Web | Posted on 12-18-2008

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I really need you to listen up for this post.  Please.

Something is going down on Facebook, and it has implications for your school.

Several weeks ago I was contacted by my friend and colleague Michelle at Winthrop about some questions pertaining to her Class of 2013 Facebook Group. The email read:

Since we are on rolling admissions I’ve been watching to see when a 2013 group would spring up.  Interestingly we have no info on 18 of the 23 members.  In fact, even though they are all out of state they all (include two 08 alum of Miami) seem to be connected.  My only thought is that they could be a group of squatters?  Would that even be beneficial to them?  Have you see anything like this or have any thoughts?

I did some research for her, and looked through the friends of Patrick Kelly, the creator of the group. At first, I saw nothing out of the ordinary other than the two ’08 alumni and the fact that this small group of 16-18 students were all interconnected with each other, like she said.

Yesterday, we sent out our admit packets.  Today, I got on Facebook to see if a Class of 2013 group had popped up yet.  I found 2.  One has the exact logo that was used for last year’s group, a non-Butler bulldog image, so I click on that one.  And I look at the Creator of the group.  Patrick Kelly, Plano Senior High School. I check our system. No Patrick Kelly that has applied and been admitted to Butler.

I dig deeper into Facebook, searching for ‘Class of 2013′ groups. And here’s a list of what I find.

University of Michigan.
Cornell.
Indiana University.
George Washington University.
Duke (?).
University of Alabama.
Tulane
.
Brown.
Northwestern.
Vanderbilt
.
Pittsburgh
.
University of Illinois.
Auburn.
West Virginia University
.
Michigan State University.
Boston University.
Penn State.
University of Wisconsin
.
Washington University in St. Louis
.
Temple University
.
University of Georgia
.
University of Chicago.
University of Iowa.
University of Vermont
.
Georgetown.
Dartmouth
.
Virginia Tech
.

And guess what?  This is only from the first 7 pages of a search that returns more than 500 results.   Start looking at the names of the group creators and admins.

Justin Gaither.
Patrick Kelly.
Jasmine White.
James Gaither.
Josh Egan.
Ashley Thomas.
And more.

See how many times those names appear in admin for these groups, and look at their friends and see how many times those names pop up.  A LOT. This isn’t just the Common App Effect, where students apply to every school under the sun. These people aren’t interested in going to every school they have started a group for. No, this is an inside ring with a common purpose.  They don’t always create the group, but they do always get in, friend someone, and get control rights.

You might have the same thought I had at first.  I responded to Megan, “That is very interesting. I don’t really see where squatting could be beneficial. After all, the students who join and participate will steer the group in whatever direction they take it.  I’ve never heard of anything like that.”

Sure, not for one school. Not for tiny little Butler, with 900 incoming students.

But for 500+ schools? Owning the admin rights to groups equaling easily 1,000,000+ freshman college students?

That’s huge.

Think of it: Sitting back for 8-10 months, (even a few years), maybe friending everyone and posing as an incoming student.  Think of the data collection. The opportunities down the road to push affiliate links.  The opportunity to appear to be an ‘Admin’ of Your School Class of 2013. The chance to message alumni down the road.  The list of possibilities goes on and on and on.

I’ve said many times, step back and let the student group start on its own.   Today, I change that position.  It seems that we have been gamed, and we need to at least own the admin rights to the group in an effort to protect our incoming students. To end the possibility of them being pushed ads and “buy these sheets for college” stuff this summer.  You know there is a motive behind all of this. And you know it has to do with money.  And you KNOW you’re going to get calls about it when it happens.

Tomorrow I will set up the OFFICIAL Butler Class of 2013 group. Tomorrow we will promote it to our students, and explain to them why the other groups are potential spam.  Tomorrow I will let them know we are not there to moderate them, but merely to provide the safe platform for them to interact and get to know each other.  I encourage you to consider the same.

For most of us, tomorrow is too late already. Luckily my group has 2 students in it.  Most schools are at 300+ students and growing every day.  Make an effort now.

I can’t wrap my head around this all the way yet.  I’ll be back around 9pm to write more.   Please, join me and comment with your thoughts. What I have said above might not be the right solution.  Maybe it involves Facebook’s help to take the ring down.  For the first time, I truly believe we can’t sit back on this one.  If you see more schools, add them to the list.  Together we can figure out a solution for our incoming students.

And please, blog/tweet/email this out to others and link to this so we can have a common place to figure out the best steps.


*added 5:47pm

*added 10:28pm

I have created a Google Doc to start trying to tie the schools all together. Collab with me! http://bit.ly/W1Cg
It’s pretty neat to see everyone working together! Check it out. Thanks for your help!

*added 11:37pm

About 15 people have joined me on the Google Doc (THANK YOU!!) and we are approaching a list of 150 schools now. Click here to see the progress.

To keep an eye on the twitter backstream as well, click here.

*added 12:25am

We have over 200 schools and are starting to notice some patterns.  Certain names are affiliated with bigger schools, and others are with smaller schools.  Some people are usually ‘creator’ and others are always ‘admin’.

*added 1:03am

A lot of the names are linking back to College Prowler. More updates after we do some research. *HUGE SHOUTOUT to the 15+ people helping out in the Google Document and on Twitter. You’re all awesome.  Be sure to leave a comment so I can recognize you properly.

*added 1:26am

We feel we can reasonably confirm that College Prowler is behind the mass creation of ‘Class of 2013′ groups on Facebook. More to come.

*added 1:40am

Out of the 243 ‘Class of 2013′ groups we listed on the Google Doc, these are the most frequent names (n=493) listed as Creator or Admin of the group:

  • Ron Tressler – 58
  • Justin Gaither – 55
  • Josh Egan – 42
  • Jasmine Smith – 20
  • Ashley Thomas – 20
  • Mark Tressler – 10
  • James Gaither  – 10

Searching these names on Google, my colleagues found several direct connections to College Prowler via LinkedIn, ZoomInfo, and more. Perhaps the most disheartening tidbit we found was a post spread across the US on Craiglist.  Here is an example of a local ad put out for a ‘Facebook Marketing Internship‘.

“Viral Marketing Internship (Spring Semester)
An internship that combines the addicting glory of facebook with viral marketing? It’s true. College Prowler Inc., the Pittsburgh-based publisher of the only complete series of college insiders’ guides written by students, is actively seeking an unpaid viral marketing intern who has a solid understanding of the web, social networking, and interactive marketing.
Responsibilities
- Implement Facebook marketing campaigns that will engage high school and college students
[...]
Hours: 15 hours per week
Salary: Unpaid, internship credit

UNPAID to do the dirty work. What a shame.

I am not here to say that College Prowler is a bad company. There was obviously a business motive behind the decision to create 250+ Class of 2013 groups.  Unfortunately, we may never know that decision now that this has been brought into the light by the higher ed community.  Stories can quickly be changed.  An incentive can be a service with one PR release.   Truthfully, I hope we don’t find out what future plans were down the road for this massive infrastructure that has been laid across Facebook to unsuspecting high school seniors.

I do need some sleep. I’ll revisit this again in the morning.  Please add your thoughts and reflections and ramifications as a comment below.  And again, thanks for your help everyone.

(View screenshots here)

*added 5:50am, Friday

One thing that concerns me, after sitting back and looking at this.  Most (75+%) of the students who are joining these groups list themselves as ’09 high school students. The position is for a college internship. I don’t know too many high school seniors looking to pick up an internship in the spring of their junior year.  It reeks of inauthenticity.  I also noticed several high school names popping up throughout as the networks that these people were a part of.  Last I knew, to be a high school student and join a network you just had to have 3 people confirm you went there. Join a school, add random people as friends to confirm you (you’d be surprised at how many students would probably do this for someone they have never met or heard of), and you’re in.  Also, I have noticed that the friend list of these ‘students’ are often alphabetical.  Start with an A search and friend students until you get what you need.

*added 9:45am, Friday

With recent talk on Twitter about what a school’s role should be on a Facebook group, I thought this research would be timely.   (To see all of my Class of 2012 Facebook Group research from last year, please visit this page.) I surveyed our incoming class of 915 students, and about 315 responded.  These questions relate to the Class of 2012 Facebook Group:

16. Did other universities and colleges use these type of sites to contact you?
Yes:    70    22.44%
No:    242    77.56%

17. Were you ever helped with a question about Butler through a social media site?
For example: Facebook, Butler Bloggers/Forums, Zinch, etc.
Yes:    195    62.50%
No:    117    37.50%

18. How helpful is it to ask questions about Butler on sites like the BUForums or Facebook?
1 being ‘Not helpful. I would rather call.’
5 being ‘Very helpful. I like using the internet to get info.’

1 – 23
2 – 17
3  – 80
4 – 93
5 –   94
Average:    3.71

21. Butler Admissions’ involvement in the Class of ’12 Facebook group was:
1 being ‘Too much. Let us have our own area.’    1    4
5 being ‘Perfect. Got questions answered when I needed help.’    2    13
1 – 4
2 – 13
3  – 114
4 – 110
5 –   52
Average:    3.66

My research shows that it’s ok for us to be involved in a ‘Class of xxxx’ group.

*added 10:19am, Friday

Breaking News: @hollyrae may have found our list of intern students behind the creation.  http://www.collegejolt.com

*added 12:03pm, Friday

Update: Luke Skurman, CEO of College Prowler, has left a comment.

*added 4:15pm, Friday

I have chatted with reporters at both The Chronicle of Higher Ed and Inside Higher Ed.  Serious interest from them.  Also emailed my contacts at Chicago Tribune and Campus Technology.  Thanks to Sarah Evans at http://www.prsarahevans.com for her PR help.  Might have a lead for a CNN story next week.

*added 7:51pm, Friday

I’m planning a small, free web-based roundtable next week for anyone who is completely lost and needs some help or clarification.  More details to come. Thanks again for all your content creation and collaboration.

I’ve started Butler’s official group and drafted the email to all admitted students to notify them of the group and the tiny role we will play in it. I have asked in the email for students who wish to be the moderators/admins of the groups.  That’s where we are at right now. :)

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Comments posted (293)

Facebook was originally limited to Harvard students. Maybe they think that’s how it should be.

Then it was expanded to only Ivy League universities.

Then it expanded to all colleges.

When it went beyond colleges to high school students, many people were very upset and said “Facebook is supposed to be for college students. That is how it has always been.”

Do you think high school students should be excluded? ;)

The Internet keeps evolving.

[...] broke the news Dec. 18 on his higher education blog, and within hours his post received a flood of comments, [...]

[...] admissions department, noticed a weird trend. Over 300 “Class of 2013″ Facebook groups were popping up for various colleges, but many of the admins for the groups shared the same name, [...]

[...] For more information read this article [...]

Hello. And Bye. :)

Very good post. I had never even thought of this before, but it all makes since now.

Again great post.

I’m sure that most readers will read this message thinking I am speaking for my nephew only because he is my nephew. I have known him for his entire life. Justin is a very mature, “outside the box” thinker. Sometimes when people use their creative thinking, there may be things they haven’t considered as part of their marketing strategies…that will develop as you continue to mature. Most of you reading this are young adults, just getting out into the real world. I completely understand your concern about fraud. I reassure you that if you have suspicious thoughts or feelings, TRUST ME…they are completely unwarranted. Justin is an innovator and I am very proud of his efforts. I love him and know his morality just like those of my own son because they were raised by moms who are sisters. Again…I don’t know the whole story but I do know that Justin is an entrapraneur. His school should be proud that they helped to cultivate the mind of this brilliant young man. However this works out, Justin is destined for success (the HONEST way)…as the intent was here, and I ASSURE you there is no intentional fraud. I am impressed by the maturity of most of the comments made, and understand your skepticism. Most of you have never had the pleasure of meeting him, but once you do, your “gut instincts” will kick in and you will see that this is a young man trying to make his mark in the world. So, Justin…keep your head up and know you’re going in the right direction. If these people weren’t amazed by the business you have built, just wait until you’ve had a little more experience…YOU’RE GONNA BLOW THEIR MINDS with your fresh outlook and kind-hearted spirit. I love you and am always in your corner. I’m very proud of you.

Aunt “Dee-Dee” :)

[...] scale. To what degree groups are administrated by the University is completely up to you. Before Facebook Gate 2013 most Universities simply let students run them to help form more authentic communities, but now [...]

Wow, I got chills even thinking about that. I sure hope Tom doesn’t let people do stuff like Facebook is doing for Myspace. On the other hand, I think I’m glad I got into myspace instead of facebook

[...] The people behind it had nothing to do with Butler. After posting about the issue on his blog SquaredPeg.com, Ward soon learned that the names of nearly 400 other schools appeared in similarly suspicious [...]

[...] The people behind it had nothing to do with Butler. After posting about the issue on his blog SquaredPeg.com, Ward soon learned that the names of nearly 400 other schools appeared in similarly suspicious [...]

[...] communications coordinator Brad Ward uncovered workers from a company called College Prowler posing as incoming freshmen and creating “Class of 2013″ groups on the social networking [...]

I think it’s happening again. People have created UVa Class of 2013 groups that seem to be promoting that Facebook-looking group that is hosted off-Facebook (at least, that’s how it looks to me).

The exact same groups have popped up for Virginia Tech, UNC, NC State…I’m sure the list goes on.

Hi,

I am interested in the topic of online identity given the spread of social networking use. For example of course, schools use facebook etc. in the admissions process. I am interested to get your thoughts on what sort of monitoring/regulation might need to be in place given the spread of use. How should people be held responsible for false identity? online harassment? What about the line between public and private identity and life? I know I just gave you a lot. If you have the time to get back to me, I included my email address. Thank you.

I read your post with the utmost amazement!

What strikes me as so unique in this internet phase rollercoaster ride we’re on is the misnomer of ‘friends’. Facebook friends???!!

What is amazing too is that geeks seem to have most friends??? haha…

I personally get at least 10 friend request weekly, of people I do not know, have never met, and will never meet, hopefully.

Facebook is a fantasy world (period)

I have an idea! Why don’t you just set your facebook settings so no one who isn’t friends with you can see your profile, and then don’t friend people you don’t know! …DUH. This seems more like a trap for non-savvy internet users than an actual “threat”.

[...] usernames (e.g. facebook/columbia.college) for their Facebook Pages. To avoid another possible Facebook Gate in Higher Ed, usernames can be pre reserved here if the trademark registration number is furnished. Finding the [...]

[...] college guidebooks, saw it as a huge potential market. SquarePeg.com has done an amazingly thorough investigation of what’s been happening with “Class of 2013″ Facebook groups and found that an absurd number of them had the same administrators – including the Georgetown 2013 [...]

[...] alarm had already been sounded in the U.S. last December, when blogger Brad Ward warned colleagues that there was something fishy happening on university Facebook [...]

This post is why the internet was invented.

you are a moron!

[...] more info, check out Brad’s post here: http://squaredpeg.com/index.php/2008/12/18/facebook-pay-attention/ Categories: facebook Tags: Comments (0) Trackbacks (0) Leave a comment [...]

[...] some battle cries to twitter, and alerted @bradjward of bluefuego, who uncovered a similar scam last December. I also had an ongoing conversation with Melissa Cheater (@mmbc) and Kevin Grout (@kevingrout) two [...]

[...] on the fraudulent ‘Class of 2013′ group phenomenon, check out Brad J. Ward’s Blog Squared Peg, my own recap of the Canadian manifestation here, University Affairs’ News Blog, or the [...]

Hey, doing research on facebook and higher ed and I came across this excellent post…the story of our Class of 2013 group is sort of similar: I got admitted to Princeton this year, and our group was administrated by a guy that people seemed to be skeptical of…turns out he was a first-year Harvard student planning on changing the name of the group to ‘Harvard Rejects 13′ or something to that effect. Anyways, apparently you can’t change the name of a group after it’s been created, so he ended up just being a jerk for a couple days and deleting stuff randomly until Princeton finally got the USG to take it over. I personally think having the USG handle these groups seems like probably the best way to go, it’s worked really well for us…you maintain an “official” presence but still can have it be student-run.

[...] recently discovered that marketers from a company interested in reaching incoming freshman was out disingenuously making hundreds of X University Class of 2013 groups on Facebook. The perspectives from both Ward and his commenters are worthy of some deep [...]

Hey yup! This is one of the best post and which is very innovative and informative one so I book mark this page for reading again and again.It helps me a lot.Thanks a lot.:)

Hi,

Just found your blog on Technorati & Digg upcomming news feeds and read a few of your other posts.
ISeems good contents,Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

Thanks,
Michael

[...] you recall back to December, Brad J. Ward, now of BlueFuego, discovered and blogged about an alarming pattern where the same people kept showing up over and over as administrators of Class [...]

[...] looks like “FacebookGate” is happening again this year. I suggest reading the two links in the last sentence to get [...]

[...] staff member involved in your college’s Facebook presence, you are probably well aware of the “FacebookGate” fiasco with many Class of 2013 groups. As a result of Facebook’s sweeping approach to delete [...]

[...] of this information you can find on SquaredPeg.com written by Brad J. Ward. Make sure if you have any questions or comments to contact him. Apparently you’ll see this [...]

[...] recently read an article on Brad J Ward’s blog from last year about “FacebookGate” where a group had severely infiltrated student-run graduation groups for various schools [...]

Subject well covered here, excellent post

[...] College Prowler CEO comes clean on “Facebookgate” in comment on Brad J. Ward’s [...]

[...] — Coined the term Facebookgate™, exploiting all of Brad J. Ward’s investigative work for my own glory. What better or more fitting way to end the [...]

[...] Brad J Ward investigates Facebookgate [...]

[...] working with their school. Brad Ward, now CEO of the higher education marketing company BlueFuego, pointed out this deception in late 2008. At the time, Ward was with Butler University’s admissions [...]

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I am impressed by the maturity of most of the comments made, and understand your skepticism. Most of you have never had the pleasure of meeting him, but once you do, your “gut instincts” will kick in and you will see that this is a young man trying to make his mark in the world

[...] The show episode will go into that story, but in case you’re hungry for some background info,here is it. We’ll be talking to the blogger who dug up the details, along with the CEO of the [...]

http://www.payonlinecard.com
All my friends are talking about online payment services so I decided to sort the thing out with them. As usually I decided to look the information up in the Internet. The best site I found connected to this topic was payonlinecard.com. It contains all the necessary information – why it is better to pay online, the advantages and disadvantages of the system, how to choose the best system for you and even the survey of the main online payment services. As if I read an encyclopedia! Now I will easily make my choice!

I am impressed by the maturity of most of the comments made, and understand your skepticism. Most of you have never had the pleasure of meeting him, but once you do, your “gut instincts” will kick in and you will see that this is a young man trying to make his mark in the world