return of the fake facebook class groups: are you ready?

They’re back! As of this writing, we’re not sure who’s behind them but fake Facebook Class of 2014 groups featuring fake students who have nothing to do with your institution are popping up at a college near you. And, for that matter, a college near me.

If you recall back to December, Brad J. Ward, now of BlueFuego, discovered and blogged about an alarming pattern where the same people kept showing up over and over as administrators of Class of 2013 groups at various colleges. A small dorky band of Web types — including this author — dug in and found 250+ fake class groups created by the same band of individuals. We feared the worst — identity theft, data harvesting — but eventually discovered that College Prowler, publishers of an alternative guide, were behind it. While less harmful than expected, that I researched colleges in New York and found the vast majority of Class of 2013 groups were College Prowler fakes was startling … and eye-opening.

Now, after sleuthing by New Paltz’s ever-alert Rachel Reuben, she and Brad are warning people once again about fake Class of 2014 groups. Many of the members are the same and contain the same boilerplate:

“This is THE best place for all the incoming freshmen/transfers of the Class of 2014. Just for those heading to ______ in 2010, this will be the group where we can talk about what’s going on and around campus.”

Proof? Check out this bogus Oswego Class of 2014 Facebook group:

Not SUNY Oswego's page

And this one for the University at Buffalo (with bonus fight song):

Not University at Buffalo

And this one for Covenant College:

Not Covenant College

Sense a pattern? Just from what Rachel and I found, similar groups propagated at Swarthmore College, Widener University School of Law, University of the Arts, University of Pennsylvania, Ohio University, Millersville University of Pennsylvania, St. Andrew’s University, Muhlenberg College, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, California University of Pennsylvania, Middlebury College, Towson University and Marymount Manhattan College.

But one lesson I learned from last year was to create an Official SUNY Oswego Class of 2014 Group. Just today, as luck would have it, we started promoting the real group on our Facebook Fans page in concert with our first major admissions open house. If we use our current online resources and the communication avenues of the institution, we can make it clear this is a real community related to SUNY Oswego.

I won’t lie. I was a skeptic. I really wasn’t sure I wanted to add an official 2014 group to the fold … until I realized someone else is always out there looking for your valuable name. Yes, valuable! Your college (or company or not-for-profit) spends so much time and resources to get a good name, so do you really want someone else stealing it for nefarious (TBD) purposes? My full intention is to turn the official 2014 group over to some capable students I know so it is student-run, by real students from Oswego.

What about you? If you’re at another college, have you checked to see if someone else is using your name? And if so, are you prepared to ensure you have official spaces to build real communities with your future students?

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17 Comments

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17 responses to “return of the fake facebook class groups: are you ready?

  1. I’m left yet again wondering — now what? Facebook, as you know, has been completely unresponsive to our Facebook Fan Page disappearance mystery (and subsequent restoration sans fans). How do we let them know — or, more importantly — how do we let our soon-to-be accepted students know that the other group is not legit? Are you telling them in your communication in the “official” group you created?

    After Brad’s post yesterday, I’m more inclined to create a Page this year instead of a group for our class of 2014, but have a meeting tomorrow morning with our admissions folks to strategize.

  2. jesskry

    Ugh. I really dont want to go through this again. But, we started our 2014 page just after the 2013 FBG happened. I’ve launched it and it is being used in all of our prospect collateral, as well as being linked from our official FB University page.

  3. insidetimshead

    I’m reporting the group with links to similar groups, a reminder about last year, etc. … but it took a lot to get this done last time. For now I’m promoting the official group and not mentioning the other one on our page until/unless it appears to be culling new students. Right now, all its members appear to be the same as on other fake groups.

    Here’s the rub: I think if we do an official page, there would still be an unofficial group people may flock to if we don’t have a group. So does that mean we should have a page *and* group to cover all our bases? Something worth pondering.

  4. insidetimshead

    JESS: Having checked your 2014 page I have to say: Yowza! Very content-rich and nice. But as I just noted to Rachel above, I wonder if fake groups will continue propagate if there’s a page but no group? It’s a pain in the you-know-what but if we want to protect our college’s good name we just have to keep exploring.

  5. I set up Facebook groups for our incoming class a couple years in advance, and under the various common names for these “class of” groups.

    That locks in the names under my control, gives me a jump on the imposters and even on the legit students trying to create them. In this way we maintain some level of control and insight.

    When an admitted student tries to join a competing group (i.e. under another name that I also set up), I direct message them and point them toward the active/promoted group. This has helped prevent the growth of multiple “class of” groups for the same year.

    So far this approach has worked well.

    Another tip: be sure to have more than one person as the admin of these groups. The college having access shouldn’t end when someone gets hit by the proverbial beer truck or, more optimistically, wins the lottery and never looks back.

  6. As a student who has been following this closely. I want to make my viewpoint clear.

    I think it is ridiculous to think that universities somehow have to control all means of communication with their university name on it.

    A facebook group is a means for users to come together than have a similar interest. That interest is to get accepted and attend a specific college or university, and then network/make friends before arriving on campus in August.

    A facebook group is not a means for an institution to control its image or something to that effect.

    In fact, I kind of laugh at the thought that somehow, a facebook group can tarnish a university’s image… If you want to have something official, create a Facebook page. Link to your page in your brochure. Get creative. Anyone can create a facebook group, whether or not they have any intention or interest in attending that school.

    Groups have been used for marketing purposes sense Mark added the application years ago. And who is to say what is being marketed to students isn’t going to be something useful? Its like… you are afraid and want to protect incoming students from ads that could benefit them with a product or service… And act as if that somehow will destroy your image in the minds of those students.

    So my proposal is simple to you: chill out. let students decide where they will congregate. monitor the situation but don’t let fear drive you insane…

    I think someone said “Ugh. I really dont want to go through this again.” Go through what? Nothing happened last year, but a bunch of admissions people getting scared because marketers controlled groups.

    The result? Everyone is still alive, the sky is not falling… someone made some money selling something to students. end of story.

    So lets rinse, repeat. And live happily every after.

  7. Fear = “Nefarious Purposes”

  8. insidetimshead

    MARCUS: It’s a very interesting viewpoint you raise. As I’ve said before, it’s the misrepresenting … are these people harvesting data, stealing identities? If you worked for, say, Target and I started a group for Target employees even though I didn’t work there, would that be right?

    Actual students setting up a Facebook page is OK. This is clearly some kind of scam. And since your email address is bogus and connects to an adult entertainment site, I can’t help but wonder if you’re one of the people behind these groups.

  9. While Facebook does need to address people creating groups to promote brands they are not associated with in anyway, maybe instead of fighting it, we can join the groups.

    We all know students know when marketing is involved. Maybe these groups being created by an outside source will open up something we’ve never seen. What if you joined the group and monitored the conversation? It’s a scary thing not having the keys, but just see what happens.

    I completely agree with the issue of not knowing if the creator is harvesting data. However, that is an issue that students take when joining any group.

    Marcus, if you’re still following this discussion, the issue is having a University name on a group that might be harvesting data. We are not trying control what students are seeing about our Universities. This is evident in us not deleting every bad/negative comment posted on Fan Pages. We are merely trying to protect students.

    I’m interested in seeing where this “FacebookGate 2″ goes. Being a very small university, we have not had a “Class of 2014″ created yet, to my knowledge.

  10. From someone in college admissions…

    My interest in creating “class of” groups for my institution is to help students find the right “fit” by honestly and casually learning about the school, not controlling the conversation and directing it toward marketing bullet points. And I mean that sincerely.

    I do actively create some topics to foster students engaging with each other.

    I’m quite hands off in terms of the types of questions asked, and generally have current students at my institution seek me out to join the group and answer such questions. People can use profanity and discuss partying if they want to. An “official” presence deters that some, but not completely, from my experience.

    Here’s where there is a major advantage ***for the prospective student*** when the admissions office creates the group: the admissions office knows who is considering the college, and can proactively invite prospective students to join such a group to meet other students considering the college long before they’ve made a decision.

    No “outsider” has that sort of contact information and no “outsider” can get that sort of conversation going early in the process.

  11. insidetimshead

    I should add that the unofficial Class of 2013 page for our college was run by an incoming student and was completely independent of us. The student did a great job and has an excellent thing for his resume, so it was a win-win all around. For the Class of 2014, I want to turn it over to students and have it their show. So I have no control issues … I just a want a REAL place where students can get REAL answers and have other REAL students solve any problems they may have. Is that too much to expect?

  12. Marcus

    Not at all. But students can still decide to flock to any Facebook group.. marketer controlled or not… it is still “REAL” because its a forum for students to converse and meet. And they can still get real answers from fellow classmates.

    All the creator can do is send messages out to students and appoint, officers, admins, and approve members if the group is closed for invitations.

    If students are annoyed by the marketing, they can leave the group and start a new group. Not hard at all. Admissions can still have their own official group as well.

    So NO its not too much to expect. But when admissions people come out saying things like no one shoudl be able to make a group with our school name on it, they clearly don’t understand what facebook is all about.

    Let the users choose, it will work itself out. No one is data mining anything… Don’t let fear run your life.

  13. Marcus

    Not at all. But students can still decide to flock to any Facebook group.. marketer controlled or not… it is still “REAL” because its a forum for students to converse and meet. And they can still get real answers from fellow classmates.

    All the creator can do is send messages out to students and appoint, officers, admins, and approve members if the group is closed for invitations.

    If students are annoyed by the marketing, they can leave the group and start a new group. Not hard at all. Admissions can still have their own official group as well.

    So NO its not too much to expect. But when admissions people come out saying things like no one shoudl be able to make a group with our school name on it, they clearly don’t understand what facebook is all about.

    Let the users choose, it will work itself out. No one is data mining anything… Don’t let fear run your life.

    I say this as both a student and a marketer who has hosted class groups in the past.

  14. Pingback: Protecting your College’s Intellectual Property on Facebook: Learning from the Class of 2014 Groups | .eduGuru

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  16. Guest

    “Official group” FAIL.

    That SUNY group allows anyone to join. That is a failure. The person who created it should have and coul;d have restricted entry to people in the SUNY network only, and given instructions on how to join, by using their .edu email on facebook.

    As far as I’m concerned also, only people in their college network should be allowed to list their college in their “info” section. It removes fakers / marketing shill / fake spambots who are Harvard (or any other big name school) fan nutjobs. But for the foreseeable future, just don’t trust any profile unless they are in their school network.

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