Freelancer.com: Where Dreams Go to Die

Freelancer.com is a place where tele-commuting freelancers look for work and people looking to get odd jobs done look for cheap labour. It’s sort of the Internet equivalent of a bunch of illegal immigrants hanging around the hardware store waiting for someone who thinks minimum wage isn’t minimum enough.

What kind of work? Anything that can be done remotely: data entry, web design, programming, and ridiculously crappy writing jobs. $100 for 400 150-page articles? Seriously? Who’s going to write an article (even a short one) for twenty-five cents? You can’t even use a pay phone for that (where I’m from it’s 50 cents a call now).

But never mind that, the problem with freelancer.com isn’t the low paying jobs; these might actually be a great opportunity for self-employed Indians or Chinese with decent English and a low cost of living. What depressed me today when cruising freelancer.com was the amazing number of cheating students. I quote:

Project Description:
my project proposal is,I want a literature review of word limit 20,000.
my topic is :what is the role of contraceptives in prevention of unwanted pregnancy among adolescents in sub saharan africa.case studay uganda.

QUESTION
What are the factors affecting the use of contraceptives in prevention of unwanted pregnancy among adolescents in sub Saharan Africa?
[project details cut for length]

. . . i would like some one i will work with step by step with frequent communication.i will also require the the first introduction in 2weeks after agreeing.

thank you

The project was listed as “master’s dissertation”. Yeah. Someone may actually get a master’s degree based on the work some desperate freelancer does for them. Someone with atrocious spelling and grammar. Generally, for humanities degrees, the entirety of one’s grade comes from research reports and essays (just as, for science degrees, the entirety of one’s grade comes from tests and lab work).

If you’re sub-contracting that, there’s nothing left. That’s the totality of the skills you’re supposed to be developing. To have a degree in the humanities and not be able to do research or write a paper is like having a degree in physics and not being able to solve problems, perform experiments, or analyze data. Just what can you do, exactly?

Of course this is anecdotal. Fortunately, there have been studies, so we can get a sense of how widespread the problem is: MBA Students Cheat More Than Other Grad Students, Study Finds. Don’t get too smug, non-business majors. Very few groups come off well in that study.

There’s a great story I read last year from the Chronicle of Higher Education, which puts a more human face on this phenomenon: The Shadow Scholar. I tend to sympathize with the ghostwriter a lot more than his clients. “If I don’t write their term paper, someone else will” is not such a compelling defense, but in fact, he offers no defense. He just tells his story.

Though he writes school assignments for money, the students are the cheaters, not him. Unlike, say, a drug dealer, who actually causes the damaging behaviour he profits from, I’m fairly certain the Shadow Scholar does not get anyone addicted to cheating. And I can imagine how much it must suck to depend on clients for work you can barely stand, let alone respect. I’m reminded of the protagonist in Robert Silverberg’s excellent novel, Dying Inside.

The chronicle article is worth a read. The final line is brilliantly depressing.

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