Social Media Detective Agency to Root Out Cheaters
January 26, 2015 8:29 AM   Subscribe

I work for a professional organization that runs classes and issues certifications for members of a scientific field. We are having issues with cheating via social media and would like to hire a company who can help monitor this and track down the real identities of the offenders.

An example of this is someone posting an image of a test question and asking how to solve it on a Facebook group (not my organization's official facebook page). Or, we have had instances where people ask to see copies of past exams. Both of these actions are against the code of ethics of the organization. In some cases, it is simply a matter of looking up the person's name in our system, and appropriate disciplinary actions can be taken. But sometimes people use an alias or nickname on social media, so we cannot find them in our system.

Is there a company or service we can hire to a) monitor social media for other instances of this kind of cheating and/or b) determine the real identities of the cheaters?
posted by jschu to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If I were replying via a sock puppet account, do you think the mods would reveal my real identity absent a court order?
The usual way this is done is to have individualized exams. If its mainly pictures of the questions being posted then just changing the font may work.
posted by Sophont at 8:40 AM on January 26, 2015

The website is kind of terrible, but check out Caveon Test Security. They do alot of investigation work for state departments of education for assessments and certification/licensure exams.
posted by statsgirl at 8:49 AM on January 26, 2015

This is probably easier than Sophont makes it sound.

If someone is going to create a fake identity to cheat, they're going to be expensive to deter (probably not worth it). But you can probably find services that make casual cheating far more risky.

I don't know how to answer the monitoring portion of your question, but identifying someone from their social media account can be pretty easy.

Certainly taking, say, a Facebook account and getting a real name or address is difficult, but that's not the problem you have to solve. You already have a list of "suspects" (your member lists) and you want to see if the cheaters are on it. Virtually every social media network has a way to look up what accounts belong to a particular email address, even if they don't make that particularly easy.

For example, I've worked with the FullContact API, and it would handle that case pretty well. You'd pull down data on all of your participants based on their email addresses and then you'd have a database of the social media accounts it can find for them. When you find someone cheating, you just compare the cheater to your list of social media accounts and back track to their entry in your member data.

It's not a perfect solution, and it might be more time/money than you're willing to spend, but it is possible.
posted by toomuchpete at 8:52 AM on January 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Get a NationBuilder free trial, import your email addresses, see which addresses are associated with Facebook profiles. If your cheaters happened to use the same email address they gave you to create the FB account, you will be able to identify them.
posted by univac at 9:39 AM on January 26, 2015

I've done some work for and with an organization that certifies people, and while I'm not really at the business end of the test design and proctoring areas, all the discussions I've been around suggest that the effort is put into designing a test/question pool/proctoring environment, etc. etc. that makes such cheating of minimal benefit, rather than particularly trying to out those who are trying to collaborate like you're describing.

As far as figuring out who a person is behind their handles/names/etc. on social media, it would take some work, but I'd look at common friends/followers/profile pictures, etc. If the anonymous person claims to have a skill in a highly specific area, look for other accounts where people claim that skill. My guess is they don't create these profiles for purposes of discussing test questions and do nothing else with them; probably they have one "public" profile on FB/LinkedIn/etc. and maybe another for things they do on the d/l, which might also include personal stuff that might tip you to their location.

I've often found doing a straight google search on a screen name or email address is surprisingly instructive, as most people use a profile over and over.
posted by randomkeystrike at 9:57 AM on January 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

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