The Sunday before Festivus is surely a slow news day, but today’s top tech story is a doozie. Evidently College Prowler, a publishing company for guidebooks on top colleges and universities in the United States, was creating hundreds of “Class of 2013” groups on Facebook, using sock puppet accounts, for the purposes of self-promotion. Brad Ward, a recruiter for Butler University, sleuthed out this marketing strategy and posted an expose at his blog, SquaredPeg. The story has spread like wildfire, including to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
The story is still evolving, but it looks pretty bad for College Prowler. Social networks, whether offline or online, are built on trust, and, as we’ve learned recently from the Madoff scandal, networks of trust are vulnerable. Perhaps universities should have been more proactive in establish their own Class of 2013 Facebook groups, though that feels like blaming the victim.
In my view, this incident argues in favor of discouraging online anonymity, at least in contexts where we need to build trust. This is the one aspect in which Knol got it right.