Stolen content is an increasing problem, as people quote text that is not their own without attributing it to the original writer. Examples can be found on Twitter where users steal other’s tweets or in blog posts that are plagiarized. Why is it that plagiarism is making its way into social media?
1. Lack of Credibility
It used to be that writers and public figures were the only ones who could get their words into the media. One of the main reasons for this is that their name, or the entity they spoke for, carried a certain amount of credibility. However, with social media, anyone has the potential to be heard by many across the Internet. All they need is an account on one of the many sites that facilitate social media and they can start typing away. This allows for many to share their ideas, but there can be a loss of credibility if the poster is not considered an expert. Some may feel that stealing the words of someone who is not an expert is not plagiarism, or they may hesitate to quote that person because of their lack of expertise. Regardless of expertise, if someone is worth quoting, then they are worth citing.
2. The Nature of Communicating on Social Media
It does not happen often, but text, pictures and videos sometimes go viral on the Internet. On sites like Twitter, where the communication is meant to be short and fast paced anyway, viral tweets sometimes start out as attributed to the original poster and somewhere along the way they lose it. Is this for lack of time? Or space? When retweeting requires us to do little more than hit a button, who has time for proper attribution?
The nature of social media also calls for a somewhat casual form of communication. Generally, many see citing text as formal and something you do for your research paper, but not something you do when crafting a blog post or that 140 character tweet.
3. No Accountability
In general, when content is stolen in social media, there is little accountability. There are no heavy duty features that check for plagiarism or for whether text has been cited properly. Online empires, like Google, know how important authentic content is, and it is well known that a website that has copied content is penalized with a lower ranking. Finding a way to penalize plagiarism in social media may not be as simple, but it is necessary because with little accountability many users will push the limits of what is ethical.
Perhaps the greatest consequence of plagiarism within social media can be seen in academia. It is within this setting that not only students justify plagiarism, but scholars seem to have forgotten at times that their words and what they write must be their own. How are we supposed to hold to a standard when academics and journalistic writers cannot uphold a standard of no plagiarism themselves?
Is Everybody Doing It?
Examples of this type of behavior are rising at an alarming rate. Recently, Fareed Zakaria was found plagiarizing the work of Jill Lepore. Zakaria is a writer for several well known publications and has academic connections to Yale should have known better. However, some believe his consequence was only a little more than a slap on the wrist compared to what it should have been for such an offense.
The Prime Minister of Romania, Victor Ponta, is recently accused of plagiarizing over half of his doctoral thesis. He is denying these claims, but just the possibility of truth here means that someone who is both a high ranking official and a scholar is linked to an act of plagiarism.
Is this trickling down to students in college who see these examples and think it is all fine and good to plagiarize another’s writing? Regardless of the reason, stealing the words of others is a growing problem in academia.
You Make Your Own Choice
Ultimately, those concerned with the value of their words within the context of social media can look for ways to take matters into their own hands. There is excellent software on the market, such as plagtracker.com, which can assist in checking social media posts for plagiarism. Concerned users of social media can also make sure they give credit where it is due no matter how much time it takes and regardless of the formality it imposes on others.