A word of caution to incoming college freshmen: Beware of Facebook pages inviting you to join your college's "Welcome" group, as these may not be groups organized and authorized by your university.
Thanks to investigative work from staff at a number of colleges, it seems that a company called RoomSurf - formerly URoomSurf - has established at least 175 Facebook groups targeted at the would-be class of 2015. Roomsurf provides a service for prospective college students, helping them find potential roommates. But the groups it has created appear to be legitimately sponsored by a college or university, with a logo, college picture, or trademark and often with a list of current students as the group administrators.
These aren't the first reports of this sort of thing. It happened to the classes of 2013 and 2014 as well. College administrators, dubbing this Facebookgate, worked together to investigate the proliferation of Facebook groups for incoming freshmen, discovering that many of them were started by the same person, Justin Blackwell.
It just so happens that Justin Blackwell is the name that Justin Gaither, co-founder and CEO of Roomsurf, uses on Facebook for "business-related stuff." That's what he told a reporter from The New York Times. While Gaither also told the newspaper that what he's doing isn't deceptive, there is no indication on any of these Facebook groups that they were established by someone with links to the company.
When the Washington Post uncovered these activities earlier this year, Gaither said he'd be more "transparent" about these "Welcome College Freshmen" groups' ties to Roomsurf. But that doesn't seem to be the case.
According to J.D. Ross, new media director at Hamilton College and someone who's worked to track down information about the Facebook groups, "Our concern is that most incoming first-year students will not realize that they are joining a group that was created under false pretenses."
Creating groups like this may not violate Facebook's Terms of Service, although at the very least, creating a Facebook profile under a false name does. According to The New York Times story, Facebook says it's investigating.
We've asked both Facebook and Roomsurf for a comment, but neither have responded at this time.