The Arizona Desert Lamp

Facebook Paranoia

Posted in Campus, Culture, Media by Evan Lisull on 24 December 2008

Facebook Guide

As if being infested with insidious jihadists and monitored by ASUA election officials weren’t bad enough, Facebook seems to have another problem — it’s “official” college class websites were designed by a company for marketing purposes:

So it’s perhaps no surprise that admissions officials and students alike felt betrayed when they learned dozens of Facebook groups devoted to the “Class of 2013” at various colleges appeared to have been created by non-students who were more interested in marketing than getting chummy with future classmates.

The viral marketing ploy was first exposed by Brad Ward, coordinator for electronic communication in Butler University’s admissions office, who wrote about some Facebook peculiarities on his blog, squaredpeg.com.

After a tip from another admissions official, Ward found that many of the “Class of 2013” groups were created by the same people, none of whom seemed to have a connection to the colleges for which they were creating groups. They did have connections to each other, however. Several of the creators were affiliated with College Prowler, a Pittsburgh-based company that publishes college guidebooks.

Calling the group creators “an inside ring with a common purpose,” Ward speculated on their intentions: “Think of the data collection,” he wrote. “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.”

Were these ever actually believed to be “official,” as in sponsored by the university? The reason people join these groups is to converse with future classmates, a goal that is accomplished even with this insidious corporate influence. The “marketing” here is no more subversive than the corporate sponsorship of the ZonaZoo T-shirts, the Homecoming Parade, or UA Votes (which was insidious, but due to its non-corporate sponsors PIRG).

Already, official university functions are far too enmeshed within Facebook, which is still a private, voluntary service the last time I checked. Here’s a better approach, that doesn’t involve President Shelton’s profile picture and Provost Hay’s status updates (“Meredith Hay is Too many white papers to read!!!”) — the University can have a formal, written policy of not having any official involvement in third-party websites. This way, these “official” sites can obviously not be sponsored by the University, and there will be no confusion.

In this case, the usual rules of the Internet apply. Don’t click on links that you’re not comfortable with. Don’t unreservedly trust anyone you don’t know in real life. Maintain a healthy skepticism.

The best part of the story comes in the university-officials-wring-their-hands-section, in which that old meme of older generations failing to understand technology still holds:

Jeannine Lalonde, assistant dean of admissions at the University of Virginia, said the College Prowler story prompted her to start an official group Friday morning, reversing her previous hands-off approach.

“Last night when I read the post, I completely changed my mind,” she said Friday. “I think we need to protect our brand and we need to protect our students.”

Indeed; Lord knows that students simply are unfamiliar with marketing schemes, and like lambs before the lion they will fall for everything. In fact, college students are little better than infants, and as such should be watched — nay, nannied — at all times, to make sure that they make no mistakes whatsoever.

Then, we go over to Facebook Truther Anne Petersen:

Anne Petersen, a former administrator in Penn State’s undergraduate admissions office, said she worried about how covert Facebook groups might influence prospective students. By posing as prospective students, a company could promote or besmirch a college, she said.

“When it comes to yield, that could be really important,” said Peterson, who directed electronic communications at Penn State. “That could sway some decisions about where students go.”

. . .

“It’s really kind of black helicopter [stuff],” she said. “You start to think about all of the conspiracy theories that can come out of this.”

What Petersen does not realize is that “College Prowler” is actually a front organization for global jihad. Call Michael Chertoff! Where’s my eREALID?

Image courtesy of Flickr user Moe_

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