Thursday, June 25, 2009

Facebook 2014, 2015, and beyond...

Pages promoting class of 2014, and 2015 groups are already popping up, and this time I know what they are up to.

Created by profiles with little or no information, and no ties to the Universities they represent, these have all the signatures of the 'class of 2013' fiasco that garnered so much attention over the past few months.

For background 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 Globe & Mail.

While this story gai
ned traction because this is the time of year that university and college bound students typically join these groups en masse, the people responsible for these groups are already working to build their networks for next year. Here is what I gathered so far:

At least two Pages have been set up, designed to encourage future high school grads to invite their friends. On the left is a screen capture from: High school Grads 2010: University Grads 2014. This is identical to a second page called: High school Grads 2011: University Grads 2015. While these pages link to important resources for future grads: (The Ontario University Fair Page, as an example), it also links to a page for 'Eruption Productions'. This group claims to be "YOUR SOURCE FOR THE CRAZIEST UNIVERSITY PARTIES".

In my series of interviews, I was asked several times what the motivations of these marketers is/was. I think this is a pretty clear indication of their game. If you can gather thousands, or potentially tens of thousands of student contacts, you have a very valuable resource for event planning and management.

It gets a bit more interesting; this promotion company is linked to another company
called 'Neesh Marketing" which claims to have party promoters both "in residence, and off campus" and they are actively hiring girls who can "light up the room". See the group yourself here.

Now, lets see if I can connect some dots to explain how this is all connected:

There is a new Brock 2014 group, run by one of these blatantly fake accounts. The admin is supposedly a young woman, and her display picture is a very suggestive picture of cleavage.

On this group page, there are direct links to the aforementioned pages. While that's no shock, what is interesting is that the 'related groups', a feature facebook uses to connect group members with other content they might be interested in, is only being drawn from this one account. In short, it tells us what other groups 'she' is in.

'She' is also the admin for Brecia University College's class of 2014 group, several residence groups, as well as the Class of 2013 Group for Wilfred Laurier University. Yes, that's right: a class of 2013 group with over 1100 members is still being run by a fake profile. There is however and important distinction between this Laurier group, and the other fake groups: the admin of this group specifically states that:

**Note: This group is for the students by the students. There is no official association with the university. I'm sure there are others as well."

This is really important. It's a step in the right direction.

Not surprisingly, the only future event scheduled for this Laurier group is the 'Eruptions Productions Frosh Week Countdown'. In fact, the creator of this group is also linked to Neesh Marketing, Silver Platter Inc. (a parent company), and InfiniteSM (a subsidiary Social Media consultation company).

Because the social media world is so interconnected, someone within this group will likely be receiving a link to this blog when I tweet it in a few minutes. So, with that in mind, let me say the following:

The opportunities to market to students using a variety of social media tools is understandably tantalizing. These students live in this space, and what better way to communicate with them than through the very tools they use. That's why I have my job. The only qualms I have with this kind of marketing, is when groups are designed to represent themselves as tied to the University, and official.

I work for the university, and always identify myself as an employee, and an alumni. Being honest and forthcoming is one of the most important tenants of what I do. If these groups followed a similar path and stopped representing themselves as students or as tied to the University, as their note in the Laurier group shows they might be willing to do, then their marketing efforts are really none of my concern.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Just Facebook Me

I was reading over some of my Brock Press articles the other day, and with all the attention from the Canadian Facebook 2013 debacle has received, I thought this one was more relevant than ever. A bit more existential than the average Blog about social media, but relevant nonetheless.

Issue date: 1/15/08 Section: Opinion

There may be few things that all Brock students have in common, but an obsession with Facebook is likely one of them. A quick glance over the shoulder of somebody 'working' in one of the computer labs, or at a laptop screen in lecture and you can see this for yourself.

These unfortunate souls have been trapped by a web application that claims to provide the opportunity to represent yourself however you like, and to do so in front of almost everyone in your life.

What was once just a small social networking site has exploded into a phenomenon that is changing the very way we communicate with each other.

Its amazing that almost everyone you've ever known that is your age is more than likely on Facebook. This kind of networking capacity is exciting, but can also present numerous challenges for people unaware of its power.

If the government had issued a mandate that all citizens needed to upload their personal information into a searchable online database, the outcry would be enormous.

Perhaps it's because Facebook has a variety of privacy settings that many people feel comfortable enough to upload their names, birthdays, job and education information, pictures of themselves, and a whole host of other information onto a web application that is now searchable through Google. This isn't to say that we are all in some grave danger because we post these things, but it is interesting to see how much of ourselves we are willing to put online for the world to see.

Facebook acts as somewhat of an autobiography for some people. It is a forum where people can choose what aspects of their lives they want to publicize, and in so doing they manufacture an image of themselves. I'm sure we all know a few obsessed people who hurriedly return home from even the most mundane events to tag pictures, update their status and write wall postings to as many people as they can to discuss whatever it was that just happened. This is all pretty harmless most of the time, however; dealing with personal issues in a very public way can add a new stressful dynamic to our lives.

If you can believe it, this goes far beyond the dreaded 'relationship status' change that many face from time to time.

Recently, in Ontario, there have been examples of suspected young offenders exposed on Facebook. Harassment charges, expulsion from school and job losses have all occurred because of Facebook in this province alone. This says nothing about sexual predators, murders, and suicides that have been directly linked to social networking sites in the United States. Hopefully these kinds of issues are outside the personal experience of members Brock community, but it is likely they aren't.

An increasing number of employers are searching through online networking sites to learn more about their current or potential employees. This means that when you apply for your next summer job it is possible that the person interviewing you will be creeping your profile looking directly into your personal life to see what kind of employee you might be.

This may not matter for most people, but if you have friends who make vulgar wall posts, you post risqué photos or do anything else that an employer might be interested in, you could be jeopardizing your job and not even know it.

Facebook gives us the opportunity to communicate with an enormous online community made up of the who's who of our pasts. What it also does is create a new avenue for people to feel that they need to constantly construct their public identity. We are rarely free from the lure of adding new information to our accounts and making sure it adequately represents who we think we are. Perhaps the popularity of

Facebook stems from the impossibility of this project. Regardless, it might be wise to gain some perspective on what we decide is important for everyone in our lives to know. Our online actions likely have consequences that we haven't thought about. As Facebook continues to grow, that ripple effect is only becoming larger.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Recap: Canadian Facebook Gate (2013)

Over the past few weeks I had been coming in contact with a number of strange, and fake, facebook accounts on Brock University's groups.

I aroused their interest because I identified myself as a university representative, and asked if they would be willing to join, or combine groups with existing ones. Specifically, the class of 2013 group. Nobody responded to me, and instead they began systematically spamming the 'real' Brock 2013 group.

I traced back some fake spamming accounts and realized I was dealing with to a group of marketers have who created a group called “Grads of 2009 (Canada)”. This was basically a massive data collection tool. From there, they pushed links to class of 2013 groups run by their affiliated dummy accounts.

Basically every major institution in Canada was facing similar copy-cat actions, whether they realized it or not.

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 was a bit like wack-a-mole. One dummy account goes down, another pops up.

I finally decided to enlist the support of other higher-ed social media professionals to deal with this problem. Because I had been directly attacked by these spammers, I was a bit uncomfortable going 'public' with this issue, because I frankly don't know if any other Canadian institutions have a staff member who fills the same role as myself. Maybe nobody cared, and I was drawing attention to something that didn't really matter.

What tipped the scales for me was the potential to mislead our students. I love the institution I work for. I loved it as an Undergrad, a Grad student, and now an employee. Thinking that people out there could have the power to completely misdirect our students, while pretending to be 'official' really drove me nuts.

So I posted this blog, along with 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 fellow Canadian higher end social media types (Kevin works for Brock too), to try to get the word out.

Brad let us know that he would contact facebook about this issue, and presto: less than 12 hours from my original tweet, the huge network of facebook groups diasppeared! I admit that this is unfortunate for the students who were making connections in those groups, but I think the potential risk for misinformation was huge, and worth having them switch groups.

Judging by the conversations on the walls today, I think the dust is settling just fine.

We’ve dealt a serious blow to the ability of these marketers to prey on our students. I'm not naive enough to think they will be gone forever. Frankly, I wouldn't be suprised if they were back as early as today, but at least they now know that there are dedicated people out there who want to counter-act their actions.

Thanks again to Brad, and for all of the help!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

#2013canada Facebookgate

An important resource for university students across Canada is being hijacked.

Specifically, the Class of 2013 groups for dozens of Canadian Universities are being run by anonymous fake facebook accounts, and are likely dummy accounts for marketers.

As @bradjward discovered last year, and wrote about on, the class of 2013 has become a prime target for social media marketers. This is fully organized here in Canada.

These marketers have created a group called Grads of 2009 (Canada). This is basically a massive data collection tool:

From there, they push links to class of 2013 groups run by their affiliated dummy accounts.

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.

They are back, and once again trying to mislead Brock students.

Another big battle going on right now seems to be at McGill. There are two massive groups, one of which claiming the other is fake, and using as evidence, but is actually the fake one! Does that make sense?

I don’t have any idea what their motives are.

All I can suggest for now is that the social media people in higher ed in Canada need to pay attention to this.

For more info, check out Brad's post here:

check out #2013canada for updates