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Fake News comes to campus: The company making up student stories to go viral

Student Problems staff interviewed each other pretending to be students


Fake stories about students are being shared by thousands of people on Facebook.

Student Problems, a Facebook meme page with 7.5 million likes, has been creating fake news and publishing stories by fictional writers in an attempt to go viral.

Earlier this year, Student Problems published a story on their site, headlined: "This Student’s McDonald’s Parody Of Drake’s ‘God’s Plan’ Video Is Going Viral". However, no student went viral. In fact the video was made by Student Problems, didn't go viral, and the "student" isn't a student – he's a member of the company's staff.

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A screenshot of the Facebook post on the Student Problems page

The video is a "student" giving out free McDonald's on the streets of Manchester, in the style of Drake's video for his song 'God's Plan', where he hands out money to strangers in the street and donates to a school.

He walks around the centre of Manchester, approaching strangers, handing them burgers and hugging them as if he's saved their lives.

When it was shared on the Student Problems Facebook page, the video was seen by 241,000 people. It was also liked by 1,400 people.

But, this isn't a student, this is Sam Rostron, Creative Manager at Social Chain, the company that runs Student Problems. He graduated from Salford University in 2015, three years before the release of the song.

Social Chain is a social media marketing agency that says it can help big brands "go viral". On its website it says: "By working with us you can turn reactions into trends, and trends into global movements." Nowhere do they disclose that creating fake content is part of that.

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Sam Rostron stars in the video

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Sam's LinkedIn profile

Within the article, Brad L refers to Sam Rostron, his colleague, as "this guy", despite the two of them working together.

Another person in the video, plays a stranger being given a burger, but is actually Michael Martin, the head of Student Problems.

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Michael Martin features in the video as a stranger

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Michael Martin's LinkedIn profile

Student Problems tweeted the story, writing "These student's (sic) created a parody to Drake God's plan", furthering their claim that it was in fact created by students.

This tweet has since been deleted and the @studentproblems Twitter account is currently suspended.

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The tweet, which has now been deleted

The founder of Student Problems, Steve Bartlett, pitches his site as an authentic student community and charges brands hundreds of thousands to reach a student audience.

On Instagram yesterday, he posted an Insta Story which read: "But at the end of the day, when it comes to content, authenticity matters more than your set-up."

On its website, Student Problems says it connects with students because "We are that audience." Describing its approach, it says: "We don’t just break the mould, we shatter it, we toss it and never look back."

Social Chain, which runs Student Problems, reaches billions of people across hundreds of Facebook and Twitter accounts everyday, many of whom don't know there's a company behind them. In the past they have been accused of stealing content and entire concepts from other people's social accounts.

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Steve Bartlett recently posted this story on his Instagram, which has 210,000 followers, proclaiming the need for authenticity in his content

Several stories have also been circulating with fake writers, including this one, which has 2,300 shares despite being written by "Ted Sunt" whose name is an anagram of "student".

Since we spoke to the COO of the company, the fake names have been removed from the site.

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Ted Sunt's author profile, and the picture being saved

The "author" Ted Sunt has a profile picture that has been saved as "Mikey" – presumably Michael Martin from the video. The user has no social media presence, mutual friends or LinkedIn connections, despite claiming to be "the real Ted Sunt".

Another "author", Rob Lemps, whose name is an anagram of "problems", uses an image of Social Chain employee Alex Martin – the image is even saved as "alex-140×140."

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Rob's author profile, and the picture being saved

"Holly James" who is the author of several articles at Student Problems, uses a stock image on her profile which can be found on a photography website, and also used on an advice page called "What to Do When a Christian Doubts".

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Holly's author profile

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A screenshot of a photography website where Holly's picture can be found

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A screenshot of a Christian advice website, which also features Holly's picture

After reaching out to Brad L, Sam Rostron and other Student Problems staff, all requests for a comment were ignored. Brad L gave us an email address to send an enquiry. Our email to this account bounced.

We then went to their Facebook page where the email address [email protected] is listed. Our email to that address also bounced.

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The email address provided on the Student Problems Facebook page

Student Problems have recently published yet another fake video with staff members pretending to be students

A new video was published on the Student Problems Facebook page on Monday 13th August. It shows interviews with "students" doing "the worlds first meme degree".

Meme Degree

In the first episode of Millennial Mirror, we speak to the students who are studying the worlds first meme degree…

Posted by Student Problems on Monday, August 13, 2018

In this video, Sam Rostron, Michael Martin and other members of Social Chain staff are seen being interviewed, pretending to be students. At no point do they state these are not real students and the story is presented at fact.

We contacted the founders Steven Bartlett and Dom McGregor several times, but at time of publishing they have not replied to our messages.

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