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!


  1. Some solid work here, Matthew. We dealt with this at Dal earlier this year - I blogged about it on a guest post at Academica - - and I'm pleased to report that now our top 2013 group is now student-run (by all accounts). Great job working to get this crap shut down, and don't ever feel uncomfortable about going public and reaching out to other higher-ed institutions on stuff like this: when the social web entangles all of us, we're all in this together.

  2. Thanks for the support Ryan, its great to hear from you.

    I'm glad this whole thing has received the attention it has. Its helping us all make some great connections in the Canadian post-secondary social media universe.