Cooks, Crooks and Social Media Ethics

17 11 2010

Like most people, I was taught as a young child that cheating is wrong and that you don’t want to do wrong things.  In those days, cheating was clear: you didn’t look at other people’s spelling tests, you didn’t “collaborate” on individual homework and you didn’t claim someone else’s work as your own.  Most schools and universities have their own specific definitions for academic integrity and what counts as plagiarism, and crossing those lines can lead to harsh ramifications.  It’s hoped by teachers and parents alike that these lessons in honesty translate to personal and professional practices as adults. However, we also live in a hyper-shareable ecosystem, where it’s never been so easy to reproduce and distribute content from others. In a field as unregulated as the internet, problems are bound to arise. But such actions still have consequences.

Recently, Cooks Source magazine felt the blazing anger of bloggers as they crowded around in defense of Monica Gaudio, whose article about apple pie had been reproduced without her

knowledge or consent. In the storm of nasty emails and facebook messages, there were many rumor stories flying about, but two facts that surfaced remain relatively unchallenged:

1. The editor of Cooks Source didn’t believe that they had done anything wrong.

2. This was not an isolated incident of “borrowing”.

In my mind, this seems like a clear case of plagiarism.  Gaudio had not given her permission for her work to be reprinted and Cooks Source acknowledged that they knew it was her uncompensated work.  But it’s rare that cheating scandals are so black and white. If getting permission from and compensating bloggers for their articles is at one end of the spectrum and this recent incident with Cooks Source is at the far other end of the spectrum, where does one draw the line? In the context of online blogs and communities, where does cheating actually begin (or even end)?

Most of the time, it can be assumed that works that have the author’s consent and are properly attributed, are okay.  It’s also commonly accepted to link out to other sites in the body of a blog (in fact, the blogger’s code of ethics demands it). What if I find an interesting article and post a link to it on my website or facebook page because I believe that my readers would find it interesting?  Since the link would take you to the original posting which would clearly delineate it as content from that other site, that is also going to be okay.  Many bloggers also offer a specific link for you to use when you want to trackback to a certain entry. Okay, but then what about tools like paper.li which drags twitter, looking for the most disseminated articles and then shapes it into a familiar format?  Is that an abuse of information gathering or not? The more you explore, the more gray areas you uncover. There are a thousand different potential situations, but content ownership and authorial rights must be taken seriously.

This is not a new issue, but one that has gained even more importance over the last few weeks.  Most people don’t want to do something that is wrong and get angry when they find out about shortcuts that were taken by others, as can be seen by the sanctioning of Cooks Source by the blogging community.  It’s apparent that even after posting an apology and taking down their Facebook page, Cooks Source may never really move beyond this plagiarism scandal. (If you’re interested in seeing the massacre that was their Facebook page, there are a number of saved screen snapshots in Google images.) So how to avoid such difficult situations?

1. Make sure you know that your practices are on the up and up by reviewing the copyright laws.

2. If you are afraid that your content may not be safe, set up a Google Alert to help you find places where your name and keywords are popping up.

3. If you’re a blogger, review the sites suggested by O’Reilly a few years ago as examples of appropriate professional behavior online.

4. Finally, no matter who you are, writer, editor or reader, practice digital literacy and seek, evaluate and credit the original source.

So tell me, where and how do you draw the line when sharing online content?

Thanks to ilovebutter and quinnanya for use of their images.

~Laura

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What’s the old Napster got to do with the new PR?

6 01 2009

As 2009 dawns here at Extanz we have been reflecting on  some of the simultaneously insightful and frustrating conversations we have had with folks recently around the notion of PR 2.0 and what counts as “success” in such a field. Now, we know we say we do PR 2.0 and the term sits heavily with us. We use the term because it is something that people can “hold onto” and has some meaning, but like all language, it traps us in a game (as Nietzsche would argue) and it is this game that has become increasingly frustrating to us. You could argue that our view on PR is colored by our politics. You could argue it is colored by our international backgrounds. Even our language differences. But it really comes down to some very simple terms — “public” and “relations”. These terms beg the questions, we would argue, of 1)  “who is your public?” and 2) what kind of “relations” do you want to have with them? We’ve implicitly discussed these philosophical underpinnings of Extanz’ work before in our posts on Trust 2.0 and The Medium is the Message, but we thought we try and spell it out here. See what you think.

First of all, hands up all those who remember Napster? How about KaZaa? Come on now, you don’t have to be nervous…. how many of you participated in P2P activities way before it was gentrified and still considered a somewhat edgy act akin to, dare we say it, hacking? How many of us believed ‘information just wants to be free’? How many of us still do?

Back in the radical early days of Napster, I was lucky enough to be around some super smart media  and cultural studies people and we wrote a paper on just what it was about Napster that made authorities’ blood boil and music lovers rejoice. Napster and its P2P friends, peers and offspring reminded us that systems of enclosure such as copyright, patents, and property deeds are artificial creations, the tools of the powerful to become more powerful; weapons of exclusivity, designed to keep their users in “in their place” in an artificial order of things; instruments of selfish wealth creation for some individuals. Now, one of the reasons Napster and KaZaa and the like were so popular was because we all knew we were being sold 2 good tracks on a CD for the price of 10 and there was nothing we thought we could do about it until we realized that if we just set those tracks we liked free, or if our friends had them and we traded them for others, then everyone could win. And win we did. Heck, even the bands cut out the middle people which made them, well you know, discontent. And then vengeful.

Around the same time, I was torturing myself over my ‘original contribution’ to academic knowledge as I toiled through my PhD program (with those smart types I was mentioning earlier). Frozen like a deer in the headlights, I was whining to one of my mentors one day about my desperation of not finding my unique contribution when she reminded me that, “there is no such thing as an original idea. There are only original combinations and articulations.” That’s academic speak for what we know now as, ‘the mashup rules; and the more creative the mash, the better it is’.

What’s the old Napster got to do with the new PR? Everything. Napster then and now serves us a reminder of the true power of the Web (it is called a web for a reason, folks). It reminded us of its original conception, its unique brilliance– its power to connect and create mutually beneficial relationships with others. At the same time that Napster ruled as a radical force and disruptive technology, we both had the honor of working for a data storage company. While sadly unaware of what would come to pass in its industry, the company had a slogan at the time —  “information made powerful”.  Napster was information made powerful. Facebook is information made powerful. Web 2.0 is information made powerful. Napster ushered in the age of the bricoleur; the artist who weaves different forms, different objects and different ideas together to create something new and useful to share with others. PR 2.0 is about the bricoleur; the individual who creates relationships between people, objects and ideas.

The new PR is not the PR of our parents’ generation. It is the PR of the Napster Generation. The Millenials. Gen Y. Gen disrupting the workforce. Gen ADHD. In the eyes of Extanz, PR 2.0, the new PR, is conversations made powerful. People made powerful. Participation made powerful. Relationships made powerful. As the Zen Buddhist Teacher Shunryu Suzuki, in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind states, “when you forget all your dualistic ideas, everything becomes your teacher, and everything can be the object of worship.” (p.44). PR 2.0 Extanz-style.

With thanks to Today is a good day  ,  jm3and of course Napster, for their inspiration!

Welcome to the brave new world — ready to share?

Kirsti