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Facebook removes illegal ads for bespoke college essays which targeted Irish students

The use of such services has been prohibited under Irish law since 2019.

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A GOVERNMENT TD has called on Facebook to stop hosting ads for college ‘essay mills’ after promoted posts for the illegal service recently appeared on the firm’s platforms.

A search of Facebook’s ad library by The Journal earlier this week found eight active advertisements for bespoke essay-writing services for college students, which targeted Irish users on Facebook, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger.

The ads, posted on different dates in October and November by three different companies, offer students to have their essays and dissertations written or other course work completed, including research proposals, statistical analyses and presentations.

Two of the companies also advertised bespoke essays alongside legitimate services such as editing and proof-reading. 

One company provided a UK-based phone number and urged students to contact the service “to write an academic paper on any topic, any subject and with any deadline”.

Another ad promised that the essays it provided would not be flagged for plagiarism, while yet another advertised a database of “over 1 million high-quality sample college papers”.

Under the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Amendment Act, introduced in 2019, it is illegal to provide or advertise such services to college students, or to publish ads promoting them in Ireland.

The ads are also contrary to Facebook’s advertising policies which ban illegal products and services as well as products which promote what the company calls ”cheating and deceitful practices“.

While a number of the ads were disabled, three of the eight found via the Facebook ad library on Monday of this week were still in the process of being removed at the time of publication.

A spokesperson for the social media company told The Journal on Monday that the social media firm would remove them.

Fine Gael TD Emer Higgins, the party’s social media spokesperson, urged Facebook to remove the ads and noted that the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) Act “explicitly criminalises” the sale of written-to-order academic essays.

“These ads are quite clearly advertising a service which is illegal in Ireland, and so by nature the ads go against Facebook’s policy on advertising illegal content,” she said.

She also said that while she did not believe the practice was widespread in academic circles, those who did so engaged in illegal activity and broke their own colleges’ rules around ethics.

“I am calling on Facebook to immediately remove these illegal ads and prevent any further advertisements of this illegal service to Irish students,” Higgins added.

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“Facebook must take greater responsibility for the legality of the ads they show and ensure that their practices in Ireland do not contravene Irish law or threaten the integrity of our education system.”

The scale of the use of bespoke essay-writing services in Ireland is relatively unknown, but recent reports in the UK suggest that the number of such websites is increasing.

Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), Ireland’s education standards watchdog, has identified more than 80 websites offering college cheating services to students in Ireland.

The Union of Students in Ireland’s Vice President for Academic Affairs, Megan O’Connor described such services as “malicious” in how they target students who may be stressed over assignments.

“It’s become such a serious problem that we really can’t ignore it,” she said.

“These are companies that are targeting vulnerable students who are under pressure, and selling them a dream.

“We need to try and ensure that students can reach out to legitimate support services instead, rather than relying on ones that mask themselves as being the right thing to do.”

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