The promotion of academic fraud through search engines


In recent years, as we have previously written, we are witnessing the emergence of platforms for the sale of academic works “Made in Spain”. Most of these websites, which in an aseptic and politically correct tone can be classified as “academic services” and with another more daring but adjusted to the reality of “facilitators of academic fraud”, are firmly committed to online marketing to attract customers . Most of the sixty portals we have identified and analyzed make use of _display advertising, while almost half insert ads into search engines.

It seems evident that these companies act knowing that their potential clients constitute a group highly exposed to online advertising , a generational cohort that spends a lot of time connected to the network and that also has search engines as its main source of access to online advertising. information.

The determined commitment to online advertising by the companies that own these platforms is demonstrated, for example, by entering “TFG Ayuda” in the Google search engine.

A good part of the results of the first entries that appear in the list correspond to announcements from companies that offer the realization of a TFG, suggesting to their potential clients that they do not care, that for a reasonable price they will prepare a job with which they will surely approve and, in addition, if the order of the TFG is done immediately, they offer a discount and a free PowerPoint for their presentation and defense.

To better understand these true incitements to academic fraud, we have analyzed the content of the advertisements that Spanish academic service platforms have inserted in search engines for two years.

Help and impersonation

The messages of the announcements of the analyzed platforms advertise two types of services: mostly, it helps in the execution of academic works, and less frequently -at least explicitly- the complete performance of these works.

Explicit references to helpdesks appear in advertisements on almost all platforms. These references appear both in the form of appeals (“Do you need help with your TFG? We can help you”; “We help you only as necessary to complete your work”, “Get help today”, etc.) and in slogans (” Comprehensive help ”,“ Help and support service during the preparation of the TFG or TFM ”;“ Tailor-made support ”;“ Advice on TFG ”, etc.).

In many cases, offers of help are presented in association with references to the personnel who will perform this function: “Experienced experts will help you”, “Find the ideal tutor (…) and receive help”; “We help you with your work (…) with qualified teachers”; “Specialized professionals (…) will help you with your project.” It should be noted that some of the references to aid offers are highly ambiguous, to the point of masking impersonation proposals. This is the case, for example, of the messages “Do you need help with your thesis? Leave it in our hands “,” Buy TFM, we can help you “,” Buy TFG (…) professionals … help you … “,” We do it for you (…) professionals … help you “.

In the advertisements of almost 75% of the platforms, messages appear that propose, clearly and explicitly, the impersonation in the authorship of the works: “We do your university work”; “We do it for you”; “Order your work …”; “Buy your TFG, thesis or master now”; “University work on request”; “Complete elaboration”; “We write your thesis”; “We write your thesis”; “Qualified specialists will do their job” etc.

Service features

Almost three-quarters of the platforms are promoted on search engines, claiming that they offer a personalized service that takes the form of providing tailored support, with accompaniment throughout the process (“personalized tutor”; “in all phases …”); with direct communication (“contact with the editor”; “direct communication with your specialist”) basically through online contact (“online advice”; “online 24/7”).

Advertisements from 13 portals refer to various types of guarantees, especially referring to the final success (“approved 100% guaranteed”; “guarantee of written success”). Slogans, appeals or information referring to economic aspects appear in more than half of the ads and are, in most cases, very general (“the best prices”), with appeals to request a quote, offering advantageous conditions ( “We accept partial payments”; “payment facilities”) and ensuring that the payment system is secure (“secure payment”; “secure transactions”).

Only in the announcements of a web the price is specified: “TFG from 5 euros page” and “TFM from 7 euros page”.

References to the speed of service appear in the advertisements of half of the portals (“Your tfg in a week”; “Your project in a very short time”).

The confidentiality of the service is another characteristic referred to in the advertisements, specifically in those of 10 platforms (“100% confidential”; “Total confidentiality”).

Can it continue like this?

The analysis that we have carried out, and of which in this article we only point out some of the results, shows that the advertising messages of the Spanish platforms of academic services represent a clear incitement for students to buy the evaluation works, encouraging the commission of fraudulent practices. It is not acceptable, to give an example, that the first results that Google throws to the search for help in carrying out a TFG are advertisements with clear proposals for sale.

The measures to face the described situation are diverse and of a disparate nature: educational, communicative, legal, pressure. Among the latter, it is worth considering the request to the big technology companies to reject the announcements of companies dedicated to the sale of academic works.

If our academic authorities decide to do so, they can consult the model letter used in late 2018 by the UK’s Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) . Nobody would accuse them of plagiarism and, if the management were successful, they would help to avoid one of the most execrable and pernicious forms of academic fraud in the university: the sale and purchase of assessment work.

Author Bios: Jaume Sureda Negre is Professor Applied Pedagogy and Educational Psychology at Universitat de les Illes Balears and Rubén Comas Forgas is a Full Professor of the University of Documentation and Scientific Communication in Education an the University of the Balearic Islands