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May 20

The globalization of Essay Mills

This morning I got an e-mail from Davao City, bringing an article to my attention, and asking me to do an episode of The Explainer on it.

Let me quote from that e-mail:

I wonder if you have discussed the issue on ‘online writing’ in your show…

Pity that I didn’t run a thread before working for them. It turned out that we were writing academic papers for lazy students abroad. But while on it, I would receive follow-up phone calls at 12 midnight or 4am from who I believe to be a Filipino call center agent (the accent). It’s like Filipino professionals helping foreigners to rip off Filipino professionals.

I asked the sender if the information above came from person experience, and here’s a portion of the reply:

It’s a shame Sir, but I did for almost 2 weeks this April 09. I remember making a historiographic essay on Joan of Arc and an architectural analysis of The New York Times Heardquarters building…

Then, I saw this report on Fox (or CNN, not sure now) which discussed about the triviality of the homework and a local school’s effort of purging the practice due to the number of essay mills offering custom papers for a pay.

So I quit and run a thread online. I learned that a number of Filipino writers (and Indians) have been scammed since 2006! Most of them got quite nasty while a few felt like their passion was ill-used (helping students to cheat).

Finally, this person’s views on why the issue needs to be discussed:

As a Filipino and a teacher at that, I feel like in the losing end if this will be discussed by foreign media. The question on ethics, plagiarism, the parasitism of the third world, the (in)dignity of the Filipino professionals, the practice being currently adapted in our colleges and universities… among others… I guess, need to be comprehensively discussed.

The article in question is Cheating Goes Global as Essay Mills Multiply: From Virginia to Manila: on the trail of papers for cash published in The Chronicle of Higher Education.In a nutshell, the article is an expose on companies that write academic papers for a fee. A case study of sorts is used in the article, focusing on entrepreneurs from Ukraine who set up dummy American companies and then operate an academic paper sweatshop in the Philippines:

Call any of the company’s several phone numbers and you will always get an answer. Weekday or weekend, day or night. The person on the other end will probably be a woman named Crystal or Stephanie. She will speak stilted, heavily accented English, and she will reveal nothing about who owns the company or where it is located. She will be unfailingly polite and utterly unhelpful.

If pressed, Crystal or Stephanie will direct callers to a manager named Raymond. But Raymond is almost always either out of the office or otherwise engaged. When, after weeks of calls, The Chronicle finally reached Raymond, he hung up the phone before answering any questions.

But while the company’s management may be publicity shy, sources familiar with its operations were able to shed some light. Essay Writers appears to have been originally based in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. While the company claims to have been in business since 1997, its Web sites have only been around since 2004. In 2007 it opened offices in the Philippines, where it operates under the name Uniwork.

The company’s customer-service center is located on the 17th floor of the Burgundy Corporate Tower in the financial district of Makati City, part of the Manila metropolitan area. It is from there that operators take orders and answer questions from college students. The company also has a suite on the 16th floor, where its marketing and computer staff members promote and maintain its Web sites. This involves making sure that when students search for custom essays, its sites are on the first page of Google results. (They’re doing a good job, too. Recently two of the first three hits for “buy an essay” were Essay Writers sites.) One of its employees, who describes herself as a senior search-engine-optimization specialist at Uniwork, posted on her Twitter page that the company is looking for copy writers, Web developers, and link builders.

Some of the company’s writers work in its Makati City offices. Essay Writers claims to have more than 200 writers, which may be true when freelancers are counted. A dozen or so, according to a former writer, work in the office, where they are reportedly paid between $1 and $3 a page – much less than its American writers, and a small fraction of the $20 or $30 per page customers shell out. The company is currently advertising for more writers, praising itself as “one of the most trusted professional writing companies in the industry.”

It’s difficult to know for sure who runs Essay Writers, but the name Yuriy Mizyuk comes up again and again. Mr. Mizyuk is listed as the contact name on the domain registration for essaywriters.net, the Web site where writers for the company log in to receive their assignments. A lawsuit was filed in January against Mr. Mizyuk and Universal Research by a debt-collection company. Repeated attempts to reach him – via phone and e-mail – were unsuccessful. Customer-service representatives profess not to have heard of Mr. Mizyuk.

Installed in its Makati City offices, according to a source close to the company, are overhead cameras trained on employees. These cameras reportedly send a video feed back to Kiev, allowing the Ukrainians to keep an eye on their workers in the Philippines. This same source says Mr. Mizyuk regularly visits the Philippines and describes him as a smallish man with thinning hair and dark-rimmed glasses. “He looks like Harry Potter,” the source says. “The worst kind of Harry Potter.”

So there you go. The article includes a presentation, Journey to the Center of an Essay Mill, which gives an online tour of what essay-mill writers see when they log on to the company’s website.

38 comments

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  1. Madonna

    Well, even Oxford and Cambridge universities have their share of this stuff. They only recruit “Oxbridge” graduates to write for their paper mill company. Yay, the fall of the West is nigh I suppose, with Manila and Bombay minds churning out term papers, dissertations for the Americans and the British.

    We have prostitutes of the flesh, and prostitutes of the mind I suppose.

  2. UP n grad

    Essay-Mills-over-the-Internet that, for a fee, ghost-write essays, help kids with their homework, review for SAT/college entrance exams, etc has been in existence on since 10 years ago. The people-talent-pools are English-speaking college-instructors or graduate-students from lower-cost countries like India, Philippines, Ireland

  3. CM

    I’m a currently a college student and I actually work for an online essay mill. I’ve been doing customized papers for more than a year now. However, my working experience with the company has been far better than the situation discussed above. Way, way better in terms of salary and writer treatment…

    If needed, I’m willing to discuss more about this thing. Just email me.

  4. UP n grad

    Payments for services are through use of MasterCard, Visa, other credit cards, and SECURITY is a more fearsome issue than quality-of-service from the knowledge-pool workers.
    —-
    It contributes diddly-squat to call CM and knowledge-workers as prostitutes.

  5. CM

    Couldn’t care less…

    Anyway, I didn’t say it’s cool. After finishing all those papers, I wonder what the students would be doing.. if they would even read it or just print it and deliver it straight to their professors’ offices. If they didn’t care, it’s not my loss.

  6. ramrod

    Thats good. So its a lot better now, kids are not limited to Cliff’s notes. 🙂

  7. supremo

    My only issue here is Filipinos didn’t think of it first and they are not in charge.

  8. GabbyD

    @CM

    can you share your experiences? labor contract terms? wages and the like?

  9. d0d0ng

    “The question on ethics, plagiarism, the parasitism of the third world, the (in)dignity of the Filipino professionals, the practice being currently adapted in our colleges and universities… among others… I guess, need to be comprehensively discussed.”

    Why blame the third world? Ethics and plagiarism should be taught to the students who are the consumers of the essay mills. And the proper forum would be the school and the teachers. They should have the ability to spot the stuff that their students submitted to them. They have the power to fail the erring students and teach them a lesson. There are always supplier as there can be paying students. It is simple economics.

    Answer to CM’s question – street-smart students will read the essay paper just to backup in case the savy professor will try cross check for substance.

  10. Pinoy Nihilist

    As a call center agent, I feel utterly repulsed by the exploitation of our creative minds. On that note, the problem really is why no Filipino is leading the damn thing. this is more of a problem of Filipinos lack of business creativity on certain aspects of Globalization. Why complain on why we’re getting the short end of the stick? Their are even call centers that are scams.

  11. ramrod

    Why blame the third world? Ethics and plagiarism should be taught to the students who are the consumers of the essay mills. And the proper forum would be the school and the teachers. They should have the ability to spot the stuff that their students submitted to them. They have the power to fail the erring students and teach them a lesson. There are always supplier as there can be paying students. It is simple economics.
    ————————————————–

    True! We are providing a service here. There’s a need. Its up to the students buying these material to decide if they want to submit it verbatim or use them as a guide. Bottomline, its a choice they have to make and the consequences become part of their learning experience. We had similar versions before right (Cliff’s notes)?
    Pornography, pedophiles, violent on line games, drugs, sweat shops – what are our priorities really?

  12. ramrod

    Their are even call centers that are scams.
    ———————————————

    Now this is a different story altogether. Lets get these call centers!

  13. BrianB

    What is unethical, that Filipinos are paid so low (just like call center agents) or they’re writing other people’s home works?

  14. BrianB

    “On that note, the problem really is why no Filipino is leading the damn thing. this is more of a problem of Filipinos lack of business creativity on certain aspects of Globalization. Why complain on why we’re getting the short end of the stick”

    I know of at least one Filipino in this business. I think it was failing, last time I heard about it.

  15. CM

    @GabbyD

    In the company I work for, they’d give you an exam first. If you pass it, you’re in. You’ll start as a general writer, meaning you have to request for the admin’s permission to do a certain customer’s paper. If your track record is good enough, i.e. quality papers, always on time, etc., you’ll get promoted as a premium writer. Premium writers can take any order they want anytime. I’m currently a premium writer. The company scans the paper through a plagiarism detection software before they email it to the students… in that way they’re sure that the students wouldn’t have any problem.

    We’ve got customers from the US, Britain, Canada, Australia. If you take a British order, you have to write in British English. That’s why they usually pay more than American English papers.

    A standard paper costs from $5 to $10, dissertations costs more. For a student like me who does nothing in the summer, it’s a treat. P500 for one page, double-spaced essay is good enough, it’s not much of a work.

  16. mlq3

    cm, glad you’re weighing in.

  17. CM

    To be honest, I actually don’t have a solid stand on this issue… on the morality stuff, at least.

  18. ramrod

    cm,
    You’re not selling you’re body or disrobing on webcam. 500Php/page wow thats not bad! The way I see it, you could only get better in your skills and creativity, I’d like to believe that this experience will look good on some resume in the future.

  19. sans_nom

    ramrod, essay mills mean cheating. does getting paid make it acceptable? as a writer, of course you grow, but still, you share the accountability.

    run a thread online. i even came across somebody who worked for 7 months without being paid a cent. their brains were hushed by the ‘poor’ hope of still getting their due. guess when it hapened… still in 2007.

    btw, we’re not talking about dim-witted school drop-outs here. they are actually well-versed pros! i mean if these people get ripped off, what hope is left?

    funny how we feel defamed when people of other races belittle us…. we don’t act.

  20. ramrod

    sans,

    In my personal “order of battle” of sorts, the “sins” of these ghost writers are the least of my priorities. When reality sinks in, its “to each his own.” Then again, its the “getting ripped off” that I don’t like, they should get paid for their effort. Unfortunately, due to the illegal nature of this job, you can’t complain to DOLE.
    I’ve done my share of “ghost writing” in my younger years, I’ve done homeworks, essays, research papers, technical papers, reports, term papers, even answered someone else’s bluebook during exams…not only did I not get paid – the girl still dumped me for someone else more interesting…

  21. ramrod

    …then again, its just my opinion. Cheating is wrong, its a mistake most of us make at one time in our lives, and mistakes make us human…nothing permanently wrong with that, as long as we don’t make a career out of it…of course, there are people who can say they never lied, cheated, and stole in their whole lives, but I’m not one of them…

  22. CM

    @ramrod

    Yep. Exactly my point. That’s what I tell people when they ask me why I do it. It’s actually a good experience.

  23. CM

    If you look at it closely, it’s not really cheating. Most of those students need help in technical writing. They know what they want in their paper, they give you their stand on an issue that has to be discussed. These people lack good writing skills, and that’s why they go ask for help. It’s just that they cannot express their thoughts well in the language. And for the record, I have to say that most of those students are international exchange students… most are Asians, though.

  24. d0d0ng

    “essay mills mean cheating”

    Too bad and there is nothing you can do about it. Look at it this way, cigarettes kills but the great free enterprise system did not ban production. Producing cigarettes is not illegal but violation of smoking ban can close down a business. And cigarettes are far deadlier than essay.

    Similarly producing research or essay papers is a business activity. The users or students are however bound by ethics, that is where the question of right or wrong should be addressed squarely.

  25. d0d0ng

    “To be honest, I actually don’t have a solid stand on this issue… on the morality stuff, at least.”

    Forget morality. There are a lot of businesses producing missiles, arms, ammunitions, high tech weapons, stealth airplanes with companies run by top professionals and engineers, etc. They don’t have qualms if people are dying on the other side of the world, still proud of their job and can sleep soundly. Yet here, moralists easily tie essay making to cheating, an insignificant stuff.

  26. sans_nom

    2 CM, let’s put it this way. You deliberately grilled your smarts and all they have to face is the brain-twisting problem on how to chew.

    2 ramrod, it’s nothing major compared to the cases pointed by dodong. point taken. but again, the different frauds it come in package with will continue to proliferate because we see it immaterial.

    2 dodong… “Forget morality”

    (_grinning_)I rest my case.

  27. Amadeo

    Good apt subject to discuss.

    And I bet a number may have been quietly surprised with CM’s revelation that a good number of his clients were Asians themselves. So most likely having English as a second language.

    The ethical dilemna lies where the student submits the paper as his own work. And isn’t the actual writing of the paper an integral part in grading the work itself? Thus, bad writing could be mitigated by good substantive ideas.

    What about unattributed ghostwritten books? Or as with most news editorials, where there is no by-line and maybe written by low-level subalterns?

    Or most political speeches? Obama has his 20-something protege doing it for him.

  28. penatbater

    I’d much rather that these companies give out outlines/pointers and let the students themselves write the paper. OR require the student to submit an outline/guide/analysis even if its not coherent. Imo the analysis part of any paper weighs more, and that’s what really makes the paper. The technical writing aspect is merely a presentation of the idea.

    @amadeo
    the difference between ghost writers and these writers is that we know to some extent that the president does not really write those memorandums, etc, and a ghost writer is really writing them. However, its rather silly to assume that a student has a ghost writer. Its even worse since at least the content comes from the president himself, just explained or expounded and made to look fancy by the ghost writer.

    With these services, the idea came from the company itself and not the student. If a student passes some form of outline or points/arguments/considerations/analysis aspect of the paper, and just let someone else write it, by god i’ll apply for that service right away! 😀

  29. Lioncourt

    CM…

    I’ve just signed on with EssayWrietrs.net..and when I tried registering for writers.ph, they said I’m already registered…so they’re one and the same?

    Now I don’t mind about the mind prositution and all…I’m in desperate need of makin’ extra bucks as I’m in dire straits and this country IS NOT giving me enough for my brains…so you think this company is ok? DO they really pay you up and all? My cousin says he gets paid, but I want to know from others as well…I’m not sure if I’d get to check this site again so can you e-mail me instead in the addy I provided?

    Thanks much! =)

  30. Lioncourt

    Oh and FYI..I’m from the Philippines…where there’s a whole lot of intelligent individuals BUT NOT getting enough..and THAT’S WHY we’re willing to exploit our minds for a taste of something better than what we have right now… =P

  31. CM

    @Lioncourt

    I dont work for that particular company.

    I dont have your email so I cant tell you the details. But this is not the perfect time to sign up, as there are no work orders as of now. School’s out in the US.

  32. Oscar Freeman

    Hello all,

    I would like to start an essay paper mill, article writing, etc. business myself. does anyboby know how I could get started, or one for sale?

    OF

  33. Oscar Freeman

    My email is fraybaby@hotmail.com

  34. Truth Writer

    @Lioncourt and mlq3

    Essaywriters(net) is writers(ph). Writers(ph) is the website for Uniwork, Inc. and Uniwork, Inc. is registered before the SEC under CS200713206, a foreign corporation–98% of which is owned by a Ukraine national, Yuriy Mizyuk.

    Uniwork, Inc. handles all calls from all the commercial websites where American, Asian and Australian clients order their research assignments and papers. Essaywriters and writers(ph) are writers’ websites where orders from the commercial websites go to and are posted. Writers choose the orders they will write. They are paid $ per page.

    This is where problems occur. Numerous complaints are on the internet that writers’ earnings are not paid because plagiarism reports are fabricated, complaints of clients are manufactured and the writer’s account on his earnings are altered so that he is not paid. Later, it is their practice to deactivate the writer’s account. Of course, this does not happen instantly–Essaywriters keep the writer in their fold for a period to earn his trust.

    There is a change in capitalization of Uniwork, Inc., Mizyuk divested all his capital from Uniwork, Inc. after the deportation complaint was filed against him in the Bureau of Immigration. It appears from the document from US, Washington that he was already deported by the US government for criminal convictions. Even paid online criminal background search engines reveal that he was in fact involved in crimes and convicted of a crime of obtaining property belonging to another by false pretense. Try google search his criminal record.

    Uniwork, Inc,. still exists but with a different set of people. A new (sister) company is also created and is now actively hiring–Total Net Research and Marketing Inc.

    These are all public records. Question is: why did the government allow this foreigner to enter the Philippines and why was he allowed to do business in the Philippines.

    I am calling on the Philippine media to cover this and for the government authorities to fact track their investigation.

  35. Amy

    You sound like a bitter ex-employee. Correct me if I’m wrong, but are you an ex-employee of that company?

  36. Amy

    You sound like a bitter ex-employee. Correct me if I’m wrong, but are you a former employee of that company?

  37. Ana

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr. Quezon got his story from a former employee who was bitter after resigning from the company. That ex-employee is still bitter up to now. If Mr. Quezon only knew what that person did.

  38. Imogen

    @Truth Writer

    You’re a bad girl, Cordelia. You won’t find a boyfriend if you’re still bitter. Now why don’t you tell the naughty things you did to some employees. Like their SSS contribution.

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