what can we do about #fbgate2016 … and beyond?

What started Thanksgiving Week when Lougan Bishop of Belmont University and I found messages on our official Class of 2015 groups telling members to join different groups, run by private company RoomSurf, became a whirlwind of community action among colleagues, then a media splash in the New York Times. Other stories followed (including one hilariously mistranslated piece). Several higher ed professionals teamed up in a myriad of ways, including blogging and other methods to spread the word, and by the end of Wednesday the RoomSurf groups were putting up disclaimers and their founder disappeared from Facebook.

But will #fbgate2015 mark the end of this kind of activity? I doubt it, and so does Lougan, who wrote a great guest post in Brad J. Ward’s SquaredPeg blog (which outed the original #fbgate2013 fake groups two years ago).

Many bloggers have weighed in with great advice. But even the best suggestions come with caveats. For example:

1) Make your own Class of 201x Facebook Groups/Pages. This has become self-evident. But, as Lougan and I discovered, nefarious intruders can swoop in at any time to try to steal members. We’re not in a part in the admission cycle where students are joining in large numbers yet. Those other groups had more members, research found, because apparently some were converted 2014 groups with existing students. And JD Ross of Hamilton College said, last year, company reps blocked him so he couldn’t see things they posted on a Class of 2014 page he administered. So the playing field, for the ethical, is still a minefield.

2) Make your groups/pages distinctive and better. When I realized we may be in for another battle for members — before colleges rallied together and the New York Times got involved — I decided to create an Official Class of 2015 Community page. And, unlike the 2015 group which I didn’t do nearly enough with, our social media intern and I filled the new page with photos, slideshows, videos, blog entries, news, the works. And asked current students to join and help. Of course, this all takes time — something we never have enough of. But, especially when establishing the groups, it makes them more worth joining. Think about holiday window shopping: You’re more likely to go into stores that look cool and have more to offer.

3) Promote the official group/pages to incoming students. In an often-decentralized campus landscape, not as easy as it sounds. I have no direct communication with prospective students (other than the web or social media) as student affairs offices handle these contacts. This means any success in social media involves coalition building and educating staffers to its benefits as well as the need for resources. On the bright side, something like #fbgate2015 — or anything that could divert our students from getting the help and advice they deserve — provides an example of why different areas of the college need to work together for a well-done, timely, useful social media presence.

4) Be vigilant. Sad but true, we can’t take for granted that all 500 million members of Facebook are ethical, logical beings. You have to constantly see if someone is portraying themselves as your college or brand … which is complicated by all the community pages (mostly ghost ships) Facebook decided to clutter the waters. And if you’re a group administrator, have many sets of eyes watching the page, knowing spammers can block you.

Because Facebook fraud will continue to appear, despite our best efforts, all we can do is keep our eyes open, have a plan and provide the best Facebook experiences possible.

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