Imagine you’re driving through unfamiliar territory and your car starts malfunctioning. You pull into a small-town garage and ask the mechanic to look at your vehicle. “I can’t do anything about your car, but I can get you in touch with other people who bought this car,” he says. As you stand there perplexed, he adds: “Hey, would you like to book a hotel room?”
“I’d like you to see what’s wrong with my car,” you respond, growing a bit irked.
“We’ll happily book your hotel room,” the mechanic replies. Then you realize there are no cars in the shop, no oil stains and the gent saying he’s a mechanic has a spotless uniform. Something is amiss.
Now imagine you’re a high-school senior looking into colleges. You see a “Class of 2015” group for a college you’re interested in. You join it, but instead of finding anyone who can really answer your question or receiving timely info, you see posts promoting a roommate-matching service. Something is amiss.
Welcome to shady Facebook marketing, a near-annual ritual facing incoming students. New York Times education blogger Jacques Steinberg offers an interesting look at the latest fraud — where a roommate-matching group called RoomSurf (nee URoomSurf) created more than 150 fake pages for colleges from coast to coast.
How did he learn about this? Because a group of higher-education web professionals found out about the shady-looking pages, compared notes and conducted some research. A lot of research. We found the same names coming up over and over creating groups posing as official college groups.
Why do we care about this? Simple. Because we want to make sure students and parents looking at colleges — any colleges, not necessarily our own — can get honest and helpful information during this important search. It has been remarkable to see the higher-education community — outsiders may see different colleges as competitors, but we are also colleagues and collaborators — come together and perform research well into the night to make sure students (even if they won’t be our students) don’t get duped.
Whatever the shakeout of this story — whether this attention will prevent shady Facebook marketing from becoming an annual rite — I’m thrilled to see so many colleagues at so many colleges really go to great lengths to make sure we put our students first. Because when you’re kicking the tires of your ride for the next four years, you really deserve some honest answers and connections.
UPDATE, 7:50 p.m.: What a crazy day it was, with additional developments.
– By afternoon, most Class of 2015 sites created by RoomSurf now bear disclaimers saying they are not officially associated with colleges and say they were created by the RoomSurf roommate matching system. See more in New York Times blogger Jacques Steinberg’s recent update.
– Late this afternoon, the State University of New York legal office served RoomSurf founder Justin Blackwell, aka Justin Gauthier, and the company a cease-and-desist order on behalf of the 10 SUNY institutions found to be impacted by the suspect Class of 2015 groups.
– By around 6 p.m., Blackwell’s profile had disappeared, at least from view, on Facebook and he is no longer listed as creator of said groups, multiple sources confirmed. Whether this was his own choice or has anything to do with the investigation Facebook mentioned in last night’s story remains a mystery at this time.