The Modern World Of Essay Mill Spam

Essay Mill Spam

Click here if you’d prefer this post on essay mill spam in the form of a video

Essay mill and contract cheating services are as visible as they’ve ever been. This has to be creating a challenging market for those companies looking to peddle their unethical wares to students. After all, students now have a wealth of people offering assignment production services that they can choose to purchase work from.

Companies have already begun to play hardball with their marketing to try and get customers. This has got so severe that some essay writing ads have already been banned in the UK, certainly a step in the right direction.

What’s next with essay mill marketing? What we’re now seeing are companies finding ways to get their messages to students, whether they’ve expressed any interest in paying for a completed assessment or not.

I’ve rounded up several examples of how essay mills are spamming their services for this post.

 

Email Spam

Here is an extract from an email advert that one of my former students received directly to his university email account.

This is also an email address he hadn’t used outside the university and for which the account details weren’t listed anywhere online.

It may not be the best ever advert, but it would certainly get noticed in a student email account.

All of the classic sales points are there, including the mention of prominent universities, a distinctive offering of statistical services and the option to sell Turnitin reports (something which really shouldn’t be possible).

Despite being advertised as a UK company (including a UK address), further investigation suggests that this company is almost certainly based in Pakistan.

It is not clear how the student’s email address was accessed. It may be through access to email account details, through a link inside the university with access to address books, or perhaps just automatically guessed email addresses (many universities use email accounts that are formulaic in nature).

These services don’t differentiate between staff and students. I too have received spam emails from essay mills to my university staff email account.

 

Twitter Spam

I’ve discussed before how essay mills and individual academic ghost writers have used Twitter to connect with students. Some accounts are set up to “talk” to anyone who posts tweets about essays. Here’s a post with an example of how Twitter spam takes place.

This process is now much more automated than it ever was before. If your tweet contains word combinations along the lines of write essays, chances are you’ll immediately receive both public and private offers to help from would-be helpers.

Thankfully, many people are now starting to fight back, or at least make it clear that they do not support the essay company spam. Here are some recent examples from Donna Yates and Joseph Gordon Diehard.

Other Types Of Essay Mill Spam

There are many other ways in which essay mills use spamming techniques to get the message about their companies out there.

If you run an educational blog, post related videos on YouTube, or submit content to anywhere that allows comments, you’re bound to find essay mill spam posted to them before too long. There’s a chance you’ll get such comments even if your site has nothing to do with education, as so much of this spam comes from automated software.

Sometimes this is more subtle. Right now, one of my contract cheating articles on The Conversation has several comments from essay mills showing. Even though the comments may not be spam, the links going back to the essay writing services themselves are very visible.

Use Facebook and find yourself looking at Facebook Pages relating to essay companies? Don’t be surprised if the Messenger box puts up and asks if you need help.

I wouldn’t be shocked to hear of essay mill spam being circulated through SMS messages and WhatsApp.

Even the Wikipedia articles on essay mills has seen companies attempt to edit at and themselves as credible sources. There are also essay companies taking advantage of web site vulnerabilities to spam.

There’s only one place I think is safe and that’s your own letterbox. I haven’t heard of essay mills physically pushing leaflets through people’s doors – at least not yet!

For More Information

You can find out more about essay mill spam in this video.

You can also contact me if you’d like to find out more about academic integrity and working with me.

Using Social Media For Academic Staff As A Component Of Continued Professional Development

A tweet of mine from Social Media for Learning in Higher Education 2016 conference, for which the tweet was well-received across the academic community, sums up a change with the potential to benefit academic staff appraisal processes for those involved with teaching and learning work.

Taken out of context, as short tweets so often can be, the tweet doesn’t fully capture the detail from a rewarding presentation on the weekly #LTHEchat Twitter chat. These weekly Wednesday evening sessions have now grown into essential activities for many in the higher education teaching and learning space.

I often follow #LTHEchat live (or catch up on the Storify summary afterwards) as the chats are interesting and wide-ranging. I also try and add to the chats when I have something useful to share, although my direct teaching and learning role is now rather diminished compared to the classroom activity I was involved with a few years ago. The timeslot also doesn’t always work for me, although participating during the scheduled live hour doesn’t seem to matter, as many of the tweets chats continue well beyond the official 21:00 at Wednesday finish time.

The tweet I quoted from #SocMedHE16 reflects that some attendees of the weekly #LTHEchat said that they had asked for this social engagement to be included in their annual appraisals as part of their Continued Professional Development (CPD) activities. There was no indication that this is yet a widespread activity, but perhaps pushing this as an extension of current and recommended CPD best practice is a way forward?

In my experience, current expectations of CPD for staff appraisal processes tend to focus on tangible activities with training elements. This can include attendance at internal or external staff development and training courses, including those taken online. They can include presenting at and attending suitable conferences. Other closely related areas, such as gaining professional certifications or fellowship of the Higher Education Academy, are also often included.

I believe that an important part of staff appraisal processes is to ensure that teaching active staff are thinking of themselves as reflective practitioners. Activities like #LTHEchat fit the bill for this for me.

The #LTHEchat allows people to share teaching and learning approaches that they have tried, as well as to discuss and question ideas and approaches in a safe and communal environment. Much localised good practice is shared, which would otherwise not be officially published. Chat topics can also push attendees to consider aspects of teaching and learning that would not otherwise form part of the their CPD. For instance, a previous #LTHEchat looked at contract cheating, an area close to my heart. I would like to think that this led a new group of academics to consider their assessment design and to think about how they could verify student involvement during the assessment completion process.

In these days where budgets for traditional forms of CPD can be limited, I do encourage those managers and peer reviewers involved with staff appraisal to consider alternatives to the traditional approaches. I wonder which universities will be brave enough to more formally list engagement with social media based teaching and learning activities such as #LTHEchat as part of the official metrics that can be considered during staff Continued Professional Development reviews?

Empowering Student Learning Through The Development Of A Social Media Community To Support Computing Students

The annual Social Media for Learning in Higher Education conference (otherwise known as #SocHE16) has emerged as one of the premiere outlets for people using social media as part of learning and teaching to share their findings.

I took the opportunity to expand upon some of the work I’ve done to engage students in extra-curricular activities using social media, particularly focusing on hackathons and other activities aimed at Computing students.

You can see the slides for the conference presentation on my SlideShare account. They are also embedded below.

The social media presentation was also broadcast live on Periscope, which might be useful for people who were not able to attend. I do hope to turn this into a more formal paper at a later date.

One of my main conclusions from the presentation was that social media communities like this can work to engage students, but they do need continued support, particularly to avoid them from becoming elitist. Several other speakers at the event spoke about more formal communities integrated as part of other courses, with success often depending on the academic discipline.

The continued contests between Facebook and Twitter also featured heavily, with Twitter seeming to be favoured for academic use, although seeing students express a preference for communication through Facebook.

Similar observations could be seen for the live video sharing platforms, with the Twitter owned Periscope having gained more prominence for academic use, but with Facebook Live reaching a larger audience for live promotion and for subsequent archiving. I haven’t yet fully explored either option, but these will certainly be reaching increasing academic audiences over the next few years and I know are tools that I should be looking to add to my repertoire.

A Decade Of Contract Cheating – The Impact Of Twitter On The Essay Industry

10 In 10 Contract Cheating Series – Part 8

This is the eighth in a 10 part series looking at how contract cheating has changed since the term was originally introduced in a research paper and presentation in June 2006.

 

The Role Of Social Media In Contract Cheating

As I’ve explored elsewhere on my blog, within my teaching and in other talks, understanding social media is now a core part of many jobs. For students, social media is part and parcel of their life.

We’re working with a generation of people who are always switched on to the Internet and wider online developments. We’re also dealing with a set of social media properties that are in flux. Where once Facebook may have been the order of the day for students, now alternatives exist that are visual from the outset, such as Snapchat and Instagram and many students engage with emerging social media that academics have barely begun to consider.

As I discussed in the video, examining the marketplace changes in how contract cheating services are promoted, essay writing services have now begun to develop full sales funnels and processes to encourage students to use their bespoke writing provision. As has happened in so many other industries, social media is now a key part of that sales funnel.

This post looks particularly at the enhanced role that Twitter now holds in helping students to cheat. I’ve chosen Twitter as I’m an active Twitter user, but you’ll find similar examples of contract cheating marketing developing on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and other social media networks.

In this post, I’m going to look initially at the traditional types of accounts that exist on Twitter for essay writing services. I’m going to follow this by looking at the changes in the market and the emerging ways in which Twitter is being used to market services that provide essays and assignments.

 

The Established Essay Market On Twitter

The are many examples of contract cheating services with Twitter accounts. The image below selects just three services from around the world that are typical of traditional social media marketing.

EssayWritingAccountsOnTwitter

These accounts are all used in what I would consider to be a standard social media marketing manner. They tweet information of interest to students, provide details of their services and show positive proof to customers such as testimonials. The frequency of tweets varies.

One of the essay mill Twitter accounts has 5,950 followers. The other two selected have 854 and 905 followers. These are not untypical sizes for the number of followers, although there are many Twitter accounts for essay writing companies with fewer followers.

Using a quick search for the word “essay” in Twitter accounts and manually filtering these to accounts aimed at writing essays for students, I quickly identified 28 such company accounts, including several presenting their services as consultancy. However, a search for “UK essays” identified 41 such accounts, with very little overlap between the two lists. Some of the UK accounts are clearly local adverts for international companies. For instance, I saw one account with UK in its name, but with pricing listed in United States Dollars.

There are many other search terms that need to be considered to build up a full picture about the scale of Twitter cheating. This includes searching for terms other than essay, looking for localised accounts and finding subject specific accounts. The sample searches used also do not identify the accounts of individual writers, who may be taking business directly from students who wish to bypass established companies.

From this brief analysis, I would be surprised if the number of Twitter accounts aimed at offering assignment completion services to students was below the high three figures. A number above 1000 does not seem outside the realms of possibility.

 

Contract Cheating Help Requests Answered On Twitter

This image below shows an example of a request (which may or may not have been serious) for essay writing help on Twitter and shows the public responses that were quickly made.

WriteEssayOnTwitterThe image only captures replies that were made in public. There’s no telling how many private offers were made, or no indication if the student took any of these offers up.

It is interesting to look at the range of sites offering bespoke essay writing services. There are large companies represented, as well as smaller writers, most likely working on their own.

The student also rejected one offer outright (likely from a friend) due to concerns about the grade that would be received.

Some of the responses are personalised. Offers look like they may have been automatically generated (perhaps based on a keyword analysis of the original tweet).

I identified one company that sometimes looks out for students tweeting requests for essay help or comments that indicate that they are struggling with their essays and then retweets them.

Although they do not retweet every day, when they do this, they look for as many requests for essays to retweet as possible. For instance, on a representative day in 2016, they retweeted 8 different people who were receiving offers to write their essay – all tweets made that same day. Those people then received anywhere between 2 and 9 different visible contract cheating offers on Twitter, with a mean number of offers of 5.25.

Some of the tweets were sophisticated, including discount codes and offers to enter into private negotiations regarding pricing.

It is also interesting that a wide range of different accounts participated in making the cheating offers and they were not just the same accounts repeated each time.

 

Tweeting Completed Assignment Details

Several essay writing companies now tweet out details of assignments.

The image below shows an example of recent tweets by one such company, all of which are the start of longer text providing details of the assignments.

TweetedAssignmentDetailsClicking on the links leads to a page on the website of the essay writing service, where more details of the assignment are visible – as well as the option for a student to submit a request for a similar assignment.

The company indicated has made 16.6k tweets. Almost all of these follow a similar format to that shown in the image.

Google has indexed 33.2k pages from that same site.

It is not clear if these are the assignments that this company has produced for students, or if these come from a wider database. However, the site itself indicates that they have 18K completed orders, with 80 orders in preparation, a team of 50 writers and 3 live chat operators. The latter number, indicates the focus that this site has on marketing (supported by a live chat that opened soon after I accessed the site). It suggests the competitiveness of this market and the need to provide personal attention in order to generate essay and assignment orders.

Some sites are most sophisticated with their automated Twitter marketing. For example, I’ve seen examples where all the tweets are accompanied with images and direct buy buttons to provide even more ways for students to directly buy their assignment from that service.

 

Twitter Accounts Aimed At Recruiting Writers

Although there are many Twitter accounts now aimed at advertising different essay mills and encouraging students to visit these essay writing sites, a new trend is the emergence of sites aimed at recruiting and supporting essay writers.

This should be of little surprise. The essay industry and large and growing, so a continual stream of new writers is needed.

The image below shows an example of one such account with 2024 followers.

TweetsAimedAtEssayWriters

Many of the tweets link to the company Facebook page, which is presumably where many discussions take place. The page is private and presumably restricted to registered writers. The mix of tips and success stories is there to motivate workers.

Their site claims that they have completed 23,260 writing projects. Despite the labeling of the site with the word “essays”, it is not clear if these are all academic in nature or not.

The company concerned seems to operate the sites where it generates orders separately. That model is not uncommon.

There are other such collections of writers that exist to provide the human resources needed by other essay writing companies. They then just plug into this large pool of writers without needing to manage their own workforce. It’s not clear if the company presented here also provides such a service.

The social media promotion aimed directly at current and aspiring writers is growing. There are whole online communities devoted to this, as well as detailed guides and support services helping workers to get accepted with the major essay writing providers.

 

Twitter Accounts Aimed At Generating Commission Payments

The world of affiliate marketing is an interesting one. Essentially, companies pay people commission to send customers to them.

Many services aimed at doing assignments for students now offer an affiliate scheme, for instance, by giving a referrer a percentage of the value of any completed sales. There are whole sites set up now that appear to be reviewing different essay writing providers, but instead are actually being paid when students click through the positive reviews and place an order.

The image below shows an example of a site that has moved that affiliate model onto Twitter, and taken it one step further, by focusing on discounted offers made available to students.

EssayWritingCouponsTwitter

This particular account is relatively small, with 89 followers, but shows another emerging development in the student assignment industry.

The tweets all link to different essay and term-paper writing services. Not all of them contain a coupon code giving students a discount, but presumably all offer an affiliate commission if the student goes on and places an order.

As is common now when advertising essay providers, the advertising of the work as being “plagiarism-free” is prominent.

 

Will Twitter Continue To Enable Contract Cheating?

The sophistication of essay writing service advertising is growing. Enhanced marketing funnels, both to find student customers and to identify new writers, are emerging.

This article has only really scratched the surface on the ways that Twitter is now being used to aid in student cheating. There is much scope for further research in this area, including identifying Twitter accounts, collecting quantitative data and even automatically analysing the language used in tweets to see how successful the marketing methods used are.

Due to the huge amount of money in this industry, with estimates of tens of million pounds of businesses going through essay services every year, the attention paid to contract cheating marketing will only increase. The sites that are missing aspects of their marketing used by their competitors will be looking to develop this.

I can see a future where companies start to combine together the different Twitter marketing strategies that have been identified in this post. For instance, a Twitter account operating on a referral model and generating commissions, but tweeting higher quality content, could be successful. I can also foresee similar trends moving to other social media services (the world of Facebook and contract cheating is a whole detailed article in itself).

Twitter accounts aimed at publicising the problems and potential poor quality of essay writing services, such as the one in the image below, are beginning to appear. But, these accounts are not prominent.

AntiEssayWritingOnTwitter

The particular account shown seems to tell the story of a financial disagreement between a student and an essay writing service, with several emails displayed in images. The student was threatened with the work being sent to their department and asked to send more money. It is not clear what the end result of this case was, but highlights a danger of students using contract cheating services.

There are also other academics, myself included, who tweet stories relating to contract cheating and who play a role in balancing the heavy marketing push of such services on Twitter.

It is clear that Twitter marketing for contract cheating services will continue. There are several reasons for this.

Anyone can market their own essay writing services on Twitter. Or, they can promote the services offered by other companies. And, this social media marketing can be completed without them spending a penny. This is why Twitter marketing is proving so attractive to assignment providing services and academic ghostwriters as the world of contract cheating continues to expand.

 

This article is part of a series of posts looking at the developments in contract cheating over the past 10 years. Take a look at the other parts of the 10 in 10 contract cheating series.

A Decade Of Contract Cheating – Examining The Changes That Have Been Made To The Marketplace For Bespoke Essays Video

10 In 10 Contract Cheating Series – Part 2

This is the second in a 10 part series looking at the developments in contract cheating since the term was first used in a research paper and presentation in June 2006.

I’ve previously showcased the slides from my anniversary presentation 10 Years of Contract Cheating.

For the people who weren’t able to attend the talk live, I’ve also produced a screencapture video version, covering much of the same content.

The video provides more details about the contract cheating marketing innovations that I’ve included on the presentation slides.

There are lots of interesting examples discussed, including many of the people who feed into essay mill marketing and the legitimate looking jobs and careers that are available. There are also examples of how cheating services are marketing themselves to students on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

You can follow this link to see the other parts of the 10 in 10 contract cheating series.

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