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In grade one, we were told no cheating. In grade six or seven, we learned about plagiarism. By high school, we learned about citations, attribution, and the importance of quoting the source.

In today’s world of social media, have these rules changed?  Sadly, there seems to be a range of experience and practices for content that is used in a blog, without permission:

  1. A quoted sentence or paragraph with the name of the author and a link to the source
  2. A quoted sentence or paragraph, with the name of the author, but no link
  3. A quoted sentence or paragraph, with an anonymous attribution
  4. A sentence or paragraph directly plagiarized

Most people would agree that option (1) – a name and a link – is the best case: it is a full attribution, and allows the reader to verify the quote in context. It also allows the original author to see where their ideas are being used. Most people would also agree that (4) is improper, and possibly illegal – it’s stealing. (3) is almost as bad: the person is not claiming the quote as their own, but provides zero credit to the original author – at best, they are lazy. But what about (2)? In this case, the person does provide attribution, but omits the link. This is selfish: they don’t want the reader to leave their site, and they refuse to reward the source of the idea with an inbound link.  This approach also is a disservice to their readers: it is impossible to see the quote in the original context.

With Twitter, it becomes murkier. Consider the following:

  1. A Tweet quoting another person including their Twitter handle
  2. The same Tweet, but without the Twitter handle

In the first case, there is attribution – all is well. In the second case, there is none – the content appears to belong to the person sending the Tweet. This is plagiarism, plain and simple.

But perhaps not so simple: What if a person is live-tweeting a speech? They include the event’s hashtag (which generates exposure), but do not include the speaker’s Twitter handle. Is this plagiarism? Or if the first Tweet includes the Twitter handle, perhaps it is a clever way to convey more content as the event is being live-tweeted?

If someone is following the entire event and the presenter’s Twitter handle is included in the first Tweet, would this be acceptable?  The first Tweet is merely the first sentence in a longer paragraph: the ideas within the entire paragraph belong to the person identified. Unfortunately, this only applies when someone is following the entire thread.

What if someone starts following partway through the live Tweet? What happens when that brilliant thought is Retweeted? The reader is led to believe that the Tweet is that of the Tweeter – not the presenter. Plagiarism. And what should the presenter think when they see their words being used without attribution?

It is rare indeed that a person who is live-tweeting sets out to steal other’s ideas: in fact, it is usually quite the opposite. But their good deed has unwittingly exposed them to one of the many new social media ethical grey zones. While the communication channels have changed from what we were taught in grade one, the rules haven’t: If you use other’s ideas, you still need to quote, attribute, and link to the source.

This week’s action plan: While it is impossible to edit a Tweet after it has been sent, blog posts can be uploaded. This week, scan through your social posts, and properly attribute others’ ideas with a link back to the source. Then add this requirement to your organization’s social media and editorial policies.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
:  Professional credentials site
.com: Web strategy, technology, and development
:  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders




Are you an information thief?  Have you ever plagiarized, pilfered, or “borrowed” someone else’s knowledge or reputation?  And has someone ever done this to you?

With the social web in front of us, it is too easy to use others’ information without their knowledge or permission – even if it is free.  Depending on how (and what) you share, you’re either seen as in-the-know… or a thief.

What type of attribution should you give, when you are using someone else’s information?  It depends:

1) Clicking the “share” or “like” button when reading a blog.  In this case, Facebook (or LinkedIn) automatically notes the source, and the writer or publisher – by virtue of having the share buttons available – is giving you implicit permission.

2) Quoting a few sentences within your blog or article.  If you are quoting someone else’s material, put the  quote, the writer, and the source website name with a link to the original article.  Doing this drives traffic to the source, and will generally keep you in the good books of the author and publisher.  Quoting an article without a link is selfish and lazy.

3) Quoting an entire article or most of an article, even with attribution, is also on the ethical border.  If you do this, there is no reason for the reader to go back to the original site. Effectively you are monetizing someone else’s work – and preventing them from doing so themselves. If you wish to use their article, connect with them first and ask for permission.

4) “Reporting on” an article by rephrasing most of it is also considered unethical for the same reason as the above.

These last two actions typically will make the author quite upset – enough sometimes to make a public example of you.  Or if they think that what you did is illegal, to write a nasty legal response to you and your employer.

This week’s action plan:  No one means to steal, but with everyone a publisher on the social web, it’s too easy to cross the line without recognizing it.  This week, give credit where it’s due whenever you speak or write.  Not only is it the right thing to do, but you will increase your credibility, both with your audience – and your sources.

Plagiarism alert:  There are services that will check for plagiarism.  One such service is  Try it out by testing one of your own pages: was the content copied from anywhere?

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
:  Professional credentials site
.com: Web strategy, technology, and development
:  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders