Class of 2013 Groups Hijacked, PSU’s Safe

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SquarePegged broke a very interesting story this week.

That blog uncovered that College Prowler, a publisher of college guidebooks, has been creating and administering the Class of 2013 Facebook groups for a number of different colleges. College Prowler hired a number of interns this fall for a ‘Facebook Marketing Internship,’ that was unpaid. The general assumption is their mandate was to create or take over as many Class of 2013 groups as they could.

The company, it seems, was planning to use their positions as admins and creators of the Facebook groups to advance their own business’ agenda.

Luke Skurman, the CEO of College Prowler, commented on SquarePegged today owning up to at least some of the accusations.

The original purpose was to use these groups as a way to inform students that they can access a free guide about their new college on our site.

College Prowler allied itself with Match U, a “social networking tool,” that was also creating and administering Class of 2013 Facebook groups. Skurman told the Chronicle of Higher Education, “They granted us some administrative access to their groups, and we granted them some administrative access.”

Read the full story inside.

Both companies had a lot to gain through this questionable behavior. As Brad Ward, the blogger who discovered the Facebook squatting, said today on SquarePegged,

Think of it: Sitting back for 8-10 months, (even a few years), maybe friending everyone and posing as an incoming student.  Think of the data collection. The opportunities down the road to push affiliate links.  The opportunity to appear to be an ‘Admin’ of Your School Class of 2013. The chance to message alumni down the road.  The list of possibilities goes on and on and on.

The Google Docs spreadsheet Ward set up to see how many colleges were affected by this says that ‘Penn State: Class of 2013!‘ had Josh Egan as an administrator at one point– Egan is one of the personas that College Prowler had been using. Egan himself was at one point either the creator or administrator of 52 Class of 2013 Facebook groups. However, as of this evening, Egan is not listed as an administrator of Penn State’s group.

Though this situation has been recognized and is being addressed, but it rises an even larger question. Some college officials have taken this event as evidence that the universities themselves should have created official Class of 2013 Facebook groups.

As Ward wrote,

I’ve said many times, step back and let the student group start on its own.   Today, I change that position.  It seems that we have been gamed, and we need to at least own the admin rights to the group in an effort to protect our incoming students. To end the possibility of them being pushed ads and “buy these sheets for college” stuff this summer.  You know there is a motive behind all of this. And you know it has to do with money.  And you KNOW you’re going to get calls about it when it happens.

Universities want to protect their brand, but students consider Facebook sovereign terrain.

When companies are actively trying to use social networks for their own reasons (in short, spamming or intrusive advertising), a need arises for greater monitoring. Email has been monitored and protected for years, and more recently social networking companies like Twitter have been cracking down on improper use of their sites.

I’m not sure what the solution is, but I think it will have to put the end-user first. In this case, the end-user is the student. We’ll be following this story as it develops.

[Here is our previous coverage of the Penn State Class of 2013 Facebook groups.]

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Creator of @OnwardState. Big fan of sweaters. Now at Fusion.

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