Academic cheating is now a lot easier.
EduBirdie, a Ukraine-based firm that allows students to bypass school assignments and buy essays online, is being hawked by some of YouTube’s big stars, with the site’s ads appearing in more than 1,400 videos on more than 250 channels, according to a BBC investigation.
“It’s clearly wrong because it is enabling and normalizing cheating potentially on an industrial scale,” Sam Gyimah, Universities Minister for the U.K., told the BBC.
The videos uncovered by BBC earned a total of 700 million views.
Although essay writing services are not illegal, if students submit work that they have paid someone else to complete there are severe penalties.
Some of the videos reportedly show YouTubers saying if you cannot be bothered to do the work, EduBirdie has a “super smart nerd” who will do it for you.
“It’s clearly wrong because it is enabling and normalizing cheating potentially on an industrial scale.”
The advertisements are featured in a wide range of YouTube channels covering subjects like pranks, dating, music and fashion.
They also included several by stars such as Adam Saleh, who has 4 million subscribers on his channel, and British gamer JMX, who has more than 2 million subscribers.
However, after the BBC’s probe, both celebrities removed the videos with the EduBirdie ads from their YouTube channels.
According to the BBC, channels with tens of thousands of subscribers can be offered hundreds of dollars for each advertisement — and they are not clearly labeled as video ads.
The YouTube star will typically interrupt what they are saying to personally endorse EduBirdie, promising that the service will provide an A+ essay for money, reports BBC.
Gyimah said that EduBirdie's marketing was shocking and pernicious as it presented cheating as "a lifestyle choice" and he said YouTubers involved should be “called out” for abusing their power as social influencers.
“I think YouTube has a huge responsibility here,” he said.
However, not everyone agrees.
One British YouTuber, Alpay B, urges viewers in one of his videos: “Don't waste your time doing your essays, let these people do it for you.”
“Whether a student wants to cheat or not it's totally their choice. You can't really blame EduBirdie or creators who promote them because everyone's got their own hustle,” he told the BBC.
EduBirdie says on its website that the essays provided by its writers are “100% plagiarism free.”
In practice, the BBC says, that means essays are written to order rather than simply copied and pasted from elsewhere.
Therefore, if a student uses the service, it might be difficult for anti-cheating software to detect it.
The BBC purchased two essays via EduBirdie, one an English literature coursework essay and the other a first-year degree course assignment. Both were delivered with only the students’ names left blank, but neither received A+ grades, earning a C and 60 percent, respectively.
A YouTube spokesman told the BBC: “YouTube creators may include paid endorsements as part of their content only if the product or service they are endorsing complies with our advertising policies. We do not allow ads for essay writing and so paid promotions of these services will be removed when we discover them.”
They added: “We will be working with creators going forward so they better understand that in-video promotions must not promote dishonest activity.”