• Clarene Mitchell

Social Media & Plagiarism - The Wild, Wild West of Technology

I'm not a fan of cowboy movies. It is not something you will ever hear of me doing in my spare time. But from indirectly watching them during childhood as my grandparents were perched in front of the black and white television, I understand enough about the cowboy heyday to know there are parallels with what I observe on social media.

The United States as we know it today, started from the east coast and slowly moved westward. In the early 1800's when the west was being developed, there were few societal structures. No government. No rules to follow. No boundaries. There were boom towns setup up after gold and silver were discovered in the mountains of California. There was a mass exodus to the west. There were tons of people in small pop-up communities. Settlers were at the mercies of those that may have had ill intentions.

Fast track to the twenty-first century with the advancement of technology. Social media has advanced like wildfire. In a relatively short period of time, we went from having the analog phones to the proliferation of smartphones. Phone booths and house phones were once the norm, now phone booths are just relics and very few people have 'old school' phones in their homes. In times past, news was conveyed exclusively via television, radio and newspapers. These sources were considered credible, trusted sources for information. In the traditional media industry, there are certain standards. Some of which includes:

  • Citing sources for quotes

  • Citing sources for photos

  • Fact checking

  • Timely and relevant content

According to the Ethical Journalism Network, there are 'Five Principles of Ethical Journalism':

  1. Truth and Accuracy

  2. Independence

  3. Fairness and Impartiality

  4. Humanity

  5. Accountability

Having these kind of standards guarded the media from the 'fake news' that has emerged in recent years.

Traditional media is quickly losing dominance to social media. Research has shown more people utilize their smart devises for news. Whether it is LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or any other sites, more than likely when you ask someone how they find out about a hot news topic, they will say it was from their favorite social media platform. In this graphic from the Pew Research Center, you can see how newspapers are no longer the preferred source for news. I often ask attendees in my LinkedIn trainings if they read newspapers. Very few hands go up.

(Image source: Social media outpaces print newspapers in the U.S. as a news source, December 10. 2018)

Although social media has advanced to being a source for news, the social aspect dominates the platform in regards to how users behave. Just as was true during the wild, wild west, there is the absence of standards and integrity. This is especially true on LinkedIn. There is a extreme lack of original content and users freely share content without giving proper credit to the creators. It's understandable when memes or quote graphics are shared and it's not possible to know the original source. But to blatantly manipulate someone's graphics and then use it as your own or use photos without permission is WRONG!

Some may not be familiar with the standards within the media industry, but many understand what plagiarism meant in school.

For those who may have heard the term plagiarism before, but don't have a basic understanding of it, here's the definition from the Oxford dictionary:

The practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own.

Basically when you plagiarize someone's social media content you are cheating and to a certain extent stealing. Think back to school. If it was discovered that you turned in a report or project that you just put your name on but someone else did the work, you would get a failing grade and possibly expelled. The same result would happen if you cheated on a test. If plagiarism occurs in the work setting you could lose your job and destroy your career. Despite everyone knowing this, people seem to forget this rule when it comes to social media.

I'm not saying all the ethical standards from traditional media should be adapted by everyone on social media. But without some guidelines, the digital world will continue to be the wild wild west of technology.

I create original social media content and have been burned by those who have a disregard for digital integrity. I discovered one such case when I was randomly scrolling Facebook and saw someone had used one of my custom graphics. My thumb froze as I was scrolling because I instantly recognized my creation. The only difference was that the person blocked out a portion of the graphic that contained my text and overlaid their own words. When I create my graphics I generally put my moniker and/or the name of my business somewhere on the graphic. Despite me doing so on this particular graphic, the person (thief) sloppily left a smaller portion of my branding information on it. Perhaps no one else would recognize it, but because the original graphic was mine, I saw it.

The creative process takes time and skill. A graphic is the end result of a well thought out concept, the selection of needed images (this step in itself can be very time consuming), the development of text and the intense layout process to get the design process just right.

Another example of social media plagiarism that I have experienced was someone posting one of my photos on LinkedIn within a very short time after I posted it. The person didn't 'Share' my post so people could see the thread to know it was my photo. Instead, she posted it as if it was her photo. She actually downloaded my photo on her device, created her own post, and plagiarized my content by then uploading my photo with her own post. This person and I attended the same event. We both made posts regarding our experiences there. She was well within her right to do so. BUT! When she made her post she could have simply typed at the end that the photo was by me. Similar to how I give attribution for the image I used for the cover of this article. A way to do this in a post from a smart devise that I like is:

'(camera emoji): Mary Brown.'

A photo taken by a professional photographer and used on TV, in the newspaper or other media source will always include the photographer's name and possibly the company they work for. Just because someone isn't a professional photographer doesn't mean they are not still owed the same level of respect. It was I who decided in that moment at the event to take photos. It was I who decided the composition (who was in it) was ideal. It was I who took multiple photos and then later when through all of them to make sure I posted a photo that was flattering to all.

Some may say, 'So what? It's no big deal. Just get over it." Well in actuality it is a big deal.

There is the saying, "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." But to me, and I'm sure other creatives, it is very annoying!

It's great to like someone's else content. But don't cross the line of stealing the content. Instead let the content inspire you to create your own. Or at the very least give credit to whom credit is due.

Don't continue the copy and paste or screenshot and post craze. Stop the madness!

I encourage everyone to maintain the following standards on social media:

  • Don't manipulate someone's graphics

  • Cite sources for quotes or other non-original information

  • Photos are the property of the person who took and posted them. Give attribution!

(Unless otherwise stated, all images used in this article are from Pixabay or Unsplash.)

#ClareneMitchell #TCMCommunications #LinkedIn #SocialMedia #ethics #Plagiarism #intellectualproperty #contentcreation #tech #technology #digital #wildwest



P.O. Box 703 Mequon, WI 53092

©2017 by TCMCommunications LLC. Proudly created with