Facebook users beware

By Tom

Breaking news from our side of the desk in college admissions. In the last day or so it’s become clear in the college admissions community that there is a small group of Facebook users – neither current students nor prospective students – who have set up at least 350 bogus “Class of 2013” groups for colleges and universities across the country. Brad J. Ward at Butler University gets the credit for uncovering this. Read an article about it on Inside Higher Ed.

No one’s really sure yet of the motives behind it, but the most logical guess is data mining or spam. With admins in over 350 Class of 2013 groups, these people would have data and access to hundreds of thousands of new college students. This isn’t necessarily illegal, but it seems pretty sketchy to me – especially since these people are, in many cases, pretending to be high school students.

We’re pretty lucky here at UR, because we had already started our official Richmond Class of 2013 Facebook group before the fake groups started appearing. Since then, a bogus group has sprung up called Richmond Class of 2013: Campus Residents. (If you’re a member of that group, please note that the creators, Kathy Li and Josh Egan, are not accepted students, applied students, or even in our prospect database. I don’t know who they are. But I do know that they are admins in more than forty other Class of 2013 Facebook groups.)

As an Office of Admission, we ideally don’t want to create Facebook groups for you – we want you to create those yourselves. Seriously, we’re not trying to read your profiles or anything like that. We don’t use Facebook when reviewing applications. Facebook is your domain, and we want you to run the show (though we want to be present there in case you have questions for us).

This situation does raise a lot of issues, however. We decided a few weeks ago that we do think it’s in students’ best interests to have an official group that you know is reliable. That’s why we chose to create a Class of 2013 group, and it turns out we’re incredibly lucky for having done so. (Please note, though, that we didn’t start the group ourselves – current UR students started it for us. We really don’t want to be in charge or moderating.) If you’re in the group already, please know that we want you guys to take over and make it yours. It’s your space – own it!

So keep this in mind as you look to join a Class of 2013 Facebook group for any college or university. Make sure you’re joining the right one, and not one started by phishers. If you’re in one of the bogus groups already, I’d encourage you to consider leaving it to protect yourself and your data. And, at the risk of sounding overly didactic, this is a good reminder to us all: always be careful what you put on the Internet and whom you give access to that information.

Update: 12/22/08

The creation of the “bogus” groups has been linked to two companies, College Prowler and Match U, both of which have acknowledged that the use of such as groups as part of their marketing strategy was “crossing the line.”

“Facebookgate,” as this whole situation was dubbed by one college admission dean, has also prompted a great (and necessary) discussion in the Higher Ed Community about our role in Facebook. As I noted in my entry above, we tend to view Facebook as students’ domain, and while we want to be available there if we’re needed, we don’t want to be a driving force. We certainly don’t want to be Big Brother, looking at your profiles. (I don’t accept friend requests from prospective students, for example – not until you’re an enrolled student at UR do I want to see your profile, or want you to see mine, for that matter.)

You’ll note that I put “bogus” in quotation marks above. Is there really such a thing as an “official” or a “fake” Facebook group? That’s a big part of the discussion currently going on. I personally don’t think Facebook lends itself to official presences (perhaps with the exception of Pages). Groups are started all the time by all sorts of people. But I do think that there are some ethical issues with people posing as high school students and, as in the case of our “rival” group, intentionally trying to antagonize a current Facebook group to increase usage of a rival one for profit purposes. That, if anything, seems bogus to me. And this causes me to reevaluate how involved we ought to be in the Facebook scene.

It’s an ongoing discussion and thought process. If any of you have any thoughts, I’d be glad to hear them!

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