“Essay Mills” Target College & High School Students Using Social Media Influencers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – They’re known as “essay mills.” One says it’s, “the professional essay service for students who ‘can’t even.'” Another promises connecting you with, “1000s of freelance Nerds.”

We found sites promising to write essays for around $18 a page. Some use social media influencers, popular on Instagram and Snapchat, to target high school and college kids.

“It’s one of those sort of ethical lines there. Gosh, that’s really good marketing but oh my gosh it makes me cringe to see it,” says James Lorello, Director of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity at UNC Charlotte.

He says there’s no doubt using a service like this — is plagiarism. It’s outlined in the school’s student code, which directly cites using, “a commercial writing service” or “ghostwriter.”

The sites themselves stay out of legal trouble by what’s written in the fine print.

“They’ll put specific caveats in the language of when a student signs up with them to say, ‘Oh, hey you can’t use this, you should cite it appropriately,’ but of course we know that that’s not the case,” Lorello says.

Many students we talked with say they’re familiar with the services or have at least seen ads for them but most say they wouldn’t ever use them.

“I mean I would consider that cheating. I feel like if it’s not your own work, then it’s someone else’s,” says UNC Charlotte Freshman Meredith Rodden.

She says the risk isn’t worth it.

“I think that can become a sticky situation with plagiarism and stuff,” Rodden says.

UNC Charlotte says plagiarism could lead to a failing grade for the assignment. Multiple violations could lead to failing the class or suspension.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools considers plagiarism a violation of the honor code. Repeat offenses could lead to out of school suspension.

Despite the risks, student Taylor Starling says she understands why some might be tempted.

“Kind of like trying to pick out the weakest link. You know cause we’re overworked and you know not really seeing the benefits of our work immediately,” Starling says.

PayPal recently announced it will no longer process payments to “essay mills.” Some universities have also blocked the sites on their campuses. YouTube has deleted thousands of videos promoting “essay mills” in recent months.