Update, 4:45 p.m. CDT: The Chronicle of Higher Education is covering this on its news blog: Company Created Official-Looking ‘Class of 2013’ Facebook Groups for Hundreds of Colleges.

Update: College Prowler CEO comes clean on “Facebookgate” in comment on Brad J. Ward’s blog.

Brad Ward just Tweeted the news that College Prowler CEO Luke Skurman ‘fessed up to his company’s being the force behind the Facebook shenanigans I (and many other bloggers) wrote about earlier today. Skurman promises to remove the interns involved in this scam from the Facebook pages. Here’s the full text of what Skurman posted on Ward’s blog, Squared Peg:

Yes, College Prowler has been directly or indirectly involved with the creation of multiple Class of 2013 groups. The original purpose was to use these groups as a way to inform students that they can access a free guide about their new college on our site. No employee or anyone else associated with College Prowler has used these groups to send out messages or wall posts.

Until about an hour ago, I was unaware that College Prowler was working with another company that may have been using fake aliases to create to these groups. The groups that College Prowler was responsible for creating were set up with real accounts. Here are the names that are associated with College Prowler, and they will all be removed immediately from the Class of 2013 groups(all other names are not controlled by College Prowler):

• Mark Tressler
• Ron Tressler
• Brenna Young
• Lisa Young
• Lauren Plavchek
• Jessica Lash

From a big picture perspective, having a marketing strategy using social networking sites (like Facebook) is something that is necessary to be effective in our business. We do pride ourselves on being forward thinking and aggressive. In this instance, in its current form, we have crossed the line and to reiterate, we will be removing our administrator privileges from all of these 2013 groups immediately.

Feel free to email, luke@collegeprowler.com, with any additional concerns or questions.

Original post:

I want to nominate Brad J. Ward for the Pulitzer Prize for Social Media Journalism for his exposure of the fake Facebook Class of 2013 ring.

Those words from Tim Nekritz in a Twitter post Thursday evening in admiration of Brad Ward‘s investigation of some apparent skullduggery in the realm of Facebook.

Brad has dug up some disturbing information about some possibly fraudulent activity on Facebook that could involve your school’s incoming freshman class.

According to Brad’s investigation, a cadre of Facebookers are either setting up unofficial “Class of 2013” pages that purport to represent various colleges and universities, or they’re joining already-established pages and becoming co-administrators. (These types of pages are usually created by students who have been accepted into a college and want to start networking with their fellow classmates-to-be. Some colleges and universities encourage the development of these pages, while others just let it happen.) Brad discovered that certain names appeared over and over again in the category of page administrator for many of these pages. In his post, Brad suggests that someone — or some organization, or group — has set up a ring to create Facebook pages in order to connect with “easily 1,000,000+ freshman college students.”

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. Alumni down the road. The list of possibilities goes on and on and on.

Could this be a scheme for identity theft? For gathering market data? For something else entirely?

Leveraging the power of the Internet and his own higher ed network (Brad is well-connected via Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.), and using collaborative tools like Google Docs, Brad’s investigation now involves some 15 others in higher ed. At last check, this team had identified some 300 of these Facebook groups with administrators who were connected (follow along on the Google Docs spreadsheet Brad has set up for tracking purposes).

Early, early this morning, Brad posted an update to “reasonably confirm that College Prowler is behind the mass creation of ‘Class of 2013? groups on Facebook.”

A bit later, he added:

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.
– 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.

Yes, Tim, I agree. If they give out Pulitzers for social media investigative journalism, then Brad deserves to be considered.

Stay tuned to Brad’s blog for more updates, and get involved yourself if you suspect something’s rotten with your Facebook Class of 2013 page.

Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

16 thoughts on “Facebookgate”

  1. I whole-heartedly agree! Kudos to all involved and for Brads leading the charge. I’ve already begun working to end the group and help students join our official group started by the university. Regardless of their motives, they blatantly posed as students entering this school, even though they are college grads. Boo.

  2. Wow! I get a lead quote. But I mean every bit of it: The initial diligence by Brad was brilliant, thorough and exhaustive (and exhausting). The collaboration to build that database, to fight back to reclaim our students’ rights to authentic experiences, was quite exhilarating.

    I’ve reported our bogus group and want to post something on our Fans page Wall … but I don’t know if this is tipping our hand too soon? Whatever happens, we owe a huge debt to Brad for his leadership. Plenty of real members of the Class of 2013 owe him a debt of gratitude as well.

  3. Will this cause other colleges from not leveraging Facebook to reach prospective students and engage current students/alumni? As an active alumni volunteer, I know that my undergraduate college has been slow to embrace Facebook. Situations like this could cause other colleges and other organizations to stay away, which would be a shame.

    Brad did a fantastic job uncovering this.

  4. Jenn says, “I know that my undergraduate college has been slow to embrace Facebook. Situations like this could cause other colleges and other organizations to stay away, which would be a shame.”

    Good point – and as Michael Stoner pointed out in a comment on Brad’s site, if colleges had been more involved in the first place we wouldn’t have had to watch this happen. If anything, this is a lesson in why colleges should be more involved in monitoring and using social sites, not less involved.

  5. Appreciate the investigation and the analysis. One comment though – could we please drop the silly label for this situation? I’m really tired of “everything-gate” when there’s any situation with impropriety. Can’t we just call it what it is – a potential scandal?

  6. Thanks for the comments and trackbacks. A couple of responses:

    Andy and Jenn – to your point about the levels of college/university involvement in Facebook and other social networking sites, this ought to be a warning to us that we pay more attention to monitoring these sites.

    David – I couldn’t resist slapping that offending suffix on my blog post. I’ll try harder to resist the next time a potential scandal erupts that piques my interest.

  7. Interesting post, as always, Andrew.

    I posted the three links to posts in the Auburn group they created – your post, Brad’s and the one from The Chronicle. I also wrote on the wall suggesting that they leave the posts so members may learn about the true intentions of the creators.

    It will be interesting to see if they last. I even friended the creator, Justin Gaither.

    Monitoring is the key. I fear that still, with all the attention, many PR people are not paying attention to what’s being said about their schools, organizations and businesses online.

    This will be a great case study for classes in January.

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