Matthew Melnyk, the electronic outreach liaison officer in Brock University’s recruitment and liaison office, has found more fraudulent “Class of …” Facebook groups that are attempting to sign up students under false pretenses. He has also linked these fake Facebook groups to an events marketing company called Eruption Productions, which bills itself as “your source for the craziest university parties.”
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.
As Matt points out in his latest blog post, if these companies want to market to students using social media, that’s none of his business. But these marketers should not be doing so under false pretenses, pretending to be a student-led group when they clearly are not.
For a recap on the fake Facebook group saga, see my previous blog post here.
The “gap year” – taking a year off between high school and college or university – is a well-established tradition in the U.K., Australia and New Zealand. And it now seems to be gaining traction among Canadians.
For example, Travel CUTS, the student-owned travel company, offers gap-year abroad programs. There’s also a new group, mygapyear.ca, that does “personalized gap year planning” for students and young adults.
Co-founder Tara Rinomato sees the gap year as “an opportunity to strengthen soft skills and enhance an application form/resume and we’re thrilled to bring these life-changing experiences to our clients.”
That sounds a bit mercenary to me – I’ve always thought of the gap year as more of an opportunity to go backpacking in exotic locales and find oneself – but I do understand that some people are a bit more goal-oriented. And no doubt parents would be more comfortable with their kids taking a year off if it was a bit more structured.
York University is also tapping into the gap year phenomenon with its Bridging the Gap program. The university says it “celebrates” a student’s choice to take a year off to gain work experience, do community service or go on an international exchange and will reserve the student’s admission spot for up to a year provided he or she is accepted into the program.
Is there a downside to taking a gap year? Not really, according to a 2008 Statistics Canada report published jointly with Canadian Policy Research Networks. The report found that students who delay postsecondary education don’t face a disadvantage in the labour market later on – as long as they actually complete their PSE once started.
Of course, that is the worry of many parents: that if their child delays going to college or university, he or she may simply decide not to return.
Last week, the University of Lethbridge met with staff at a townhall-style meeting to discuss an expected $11-million budget shortfall between 2010 and 2012. Among the repercussions: any vacancies due to retirement or attrition won’t be filled unless they’re deemed essential.
The previous week, Brandon University announced it was leaving five per cent of its faculty jobs vacant for the 2009-2010 academic year to help find more than $1.2 million in savings to balance its budget.
Many other Canadian universities are also spilling red ink due to the economic downturn. Reactions range from job cuts to hiring freezes, pay cuts for senior administrators, higher fees and more.
Not all universities are in dire straits, but overall the list makes for pretty sober reading.
For several years now, many high school students who are entering university in the fall sign up to Facebook groups created by fellow students for their particular freshman class. So, for example, students who are starting their first year at Brock University this fall can sign up to the “Brock University Class of 2013″ Facebook group, named for the year in which they’ll (hopefully) graduate.
Students can use these groups to get to know each other, share information and plan activities before they even set foot on campus in September. Most, if not all, universities in Canada have similar student-run Facebook groups.
But all is not as it seems. There have been several examples so far this year of fraudulent “Class of …” Facebook groups in Canada that purport to represent students but which appear to have no connection to that particular university.
The 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 groups.
Matthew Melnyk, the electronic outreach liaison officer in Brock’s recruitment and liaison office, discovered such a group pretending to represent Brock students in February. Digging further, he found that this group was linked to another Facebook group called “Grads of 2009 (Canada)” which itself had links to other illegitimate “Class of …” Facebook groups at more than a dozen Canadian universities.
(Story continues below.)
The critical issue, he told me in an interview last week, is the risk that these fake groups pose to students. Matt did not know what these groups were after, but guessed that they were likely trying to collect personal data for marketing purposes. “I’m assuming it was data mining, but I’m not really sure.”
Matt stumbled upon the fake Facebook group almost by accident. There was a legitimate “Class of 2013″ group run by a Brock student, and Matt asked her if he could join as an administrator. He says he just wanted to “kind of be in the background” to answer any questions students might have (Matt is a Brock alumnus).
About a month or so later, he discovered a competing group claiming to be “the official” Brock Class of 2013 group. He was immediately suspicious, because the administrator of this group did not appear to be a Brock student and didn’t list any “friends” or high school information.
Giving them the benefit of the doubt, Matt messaged this group to suggest that they might want to combine their group with the other existing group. Rather than responding directly, this fake group began to send malicious spam messages to the legitimate Brock group.
Matt asked Facebook to take the group down on the grounds of copyright infringement – the fake Brock Class of 2013 group was using the official Brock University logo. Facebook complied about a week later and shut down the offending account.
In the meantime, Matt traced this fake group back to the above-mentioned “Grads of 2009 (Canada)” group, with its links to various other fake university Facebook groups. Many of these groups had the same administrator name or versions of the same name, so he assumes they were all linked.
Ryan McNutt, the new media officer in the communication and marketing department at Dalhousie University, had a somewhat similar experience at his university, which he recounts in a guest blog post in May on the Academica Group’s web site.
Matt had one last skirmish with the fake Brock Facebook group in May. It reappeared – without the official Brock logo – and was making this wild claim:
“Brock staff (namely Matthew Melnyk) have been trying to get control over brock facebook groups. And when the student creators dont make them admins they file copyright claims to Facebook and get the groups DELETED.”
Brad Ward, who uncovered the fake groups in the U.S., happened to be on the Brock campus that week. Brad, who has contacts at Facebook due to his earlier discoveries, took this information to Facebook and within a couple of days all the fake Canadian groups were shut down. Brad and Matt have also spread the news on Twitter (Twitter users can follow the events using the hash tag “#2013canada”).
The whole series of events is recounted in Matt’s blog and also in a blog post by Melissa Cheater, who did some of the digging around the fake groups (the screen shots reproduced on this page come from Melissa’s blog – thanks Melissa).
The obvious message for universities is that they must keep a close eye on social media. Says Ryan McNutt on his blog post:
As both individuals and organizations get savvier in the social media realm, our responsibility to monitor and protect our identity online is only going to grow. Every university has to make its own decisions as to when to take action, but the use of a school’s identity to mislead prospective students into a marketer’s channel is a serious concern that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Matt at Brock says that he’s not sure if even half of those institutions that were falsely represented even know it was happening. He adds: “there’s probably no way to find out what these people were planning, or what they’re planning next.”
Do you remember where you were exactly 20 years ago today (June 4, 1989)? I was recovering from a stomach bug in a hotel room in Kunming, China. That’s far from the events taking place that day in Tiananmen Square, but I had in fact been in the square seven weeks earlier on the day the students first occupied it en masse, on April 17.
My then partner Sue and I had been staying in Beijing with a Chinese friend who was a biology professor at Beijing Agricultural University (she had done a postdoc at the University of Guelph, and we’d met through my sister). This was a time when it was still uncommon for Westerners to stay with Chinese in their homes.
As a professor, she was well aware of the plan for the city’s university students to march down to Tiananmen that day and warned us to stay away. But on our way downtown, we ran into the throngs of students en route to the square and spent much of that day following along and trying to communicate with them as best we could.
For the next seven weeks as Sue and I travelled the country, the events at Tiananmen continued to unfold, to our growing astonishment. We saw similar protests, increasing progressively in size, in cities such as Xian and Chengdu as locals there took their cue from the student unrest in Beijing and also took to the streets.
On that fateful day, June 4, in far-off Kunming, word started to filter down to us – this was a time long before the Internet. We ran into a BBC journalist and her cameraman, and they were able to fill us in on some of the details.
It wasn’t until the next day, June 5, that the full impact of the massacre was felt in Kunming. We hovered at the edge of a massive gathering of perhaps 20,000 people who were standing in absolute silence as a young man on a wreath-decked stage addressed the crowd in a voice strangled with emotion. Also that day we saw hordes gathering around to read copies of the Hong Kong newspapers that had been faxed to Kunming and posted on walls and lampposts.
I’m surprised all this activity was allowed to happen, but I guess the authorities were too busy in the bigger cities to be concerned with what was happening in a faraway provincial capital.
In the following chaotic few days, a small group of us Westerners, somewhat panicked and traumatized, made our way out of the country. With the railroads blocked and the airports in chaos, it took us four days by bus and boat.
That final night in China, we saw images on the national news of heroic soldiers, brooms in hand, cleaning up the mess left by those unruly students. The propaganda campaign to sweep away the memory of the events, like the detritus in the square, had begun.
I remember feeling outraged, but I also felt convinced that the Chinese authorities would never be able to get away with this. The world would not allow it!
I guess I was as naïve then as the students I had met seven weeks earlier in Beijing.
It would be easy to conclude that little was gained by those protests 20 years ago. Many of the 20th-anniversary retrospectives today would seem to suggest so. I don’t know. I would like to hope that the optimism, daring and idealism so characteristic of the young does live on – and hopefully remains in evidence on all our university campuses in one form or another. Or am I again being naïve?