Plagiarism on Facebook
November 5, 2010 12:24 PM   Subscribe

My wife's twenty-something cousin is plagiarizing poems via her Facebook page. We noticed. What next?

She has posted 3 poems on the notes section of her Facebook page over the past few weeks. She clearly adds "written by [her name]" to the bottom of each poem. Googling the first few lines of each poem easily brings up the verbatim poem written by someone else, usually it's 1st search result.

This annoyed my wife and me, but we couldn't think of a way to approach it.

Just yesterday, my wife's cousin's status update was something like "working on a new poem". My wife was online at the time and chatted her cousin immediately. My wife did a little "play dumb" routine and asked her cousin "those are great poems you posted, which book/website do you find them on?" Her cousin's response was "I wrote them...I took creative writing class in high school." My wife's response was "oh, they sounded familiar" and then dropped it.

Should we care? I mean, the authors' obviously wouldn't want their stuff ripped off, but I'm not sure how much they'd care about or notice this person's Facebook page.

What are the consequences for my wife's cousin is she's caught? If significant, should we use that as a reason to tell her to cease and desist?

If the potential consequences are minimal, should we still tell her cousin to knock it off because it's the right thing to do? Or should we just ignore it and move on with our lives?
posted by glenngulia to Writing & Language (53 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
She's twenty-something, and your wife's cousin?

It's none of your business.
posted by schmod at 12:25 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Should we care?

No, you should not.

I mean, the authors' obviously wouldn't want their stuff ripped off

You don't actually know that, and in any case, you haven't been appointed by those authors to handle this for them. Why look for a fight?
posted by enn at 12:26 PM on November 5, 2010

What are the consequences for my wife's cousin is she's caught?

Being embarrassed, if she's just posting them to Facebook. I'd stay out of this.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:27 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your spouse is not your cousin's keeper. Let it go.

She gets to face whatever (most likely minimal financial, more likely socially embarrassing) consequences.
posted by zippy at 12:28 PM on November 5, 2010

How old is the cousin?

I would absolutely say something about it. It's wrong to take credit for someone else's work. Wrong, wrong, wrong. But, that could be the teacher in me. Of course, how you approach the issue is the trickier part. I'm not sure what the family implications might be if you do say something.
posted by AlliKat75 at 12:29 PM on November 5, 2010 [7 favorites]

Let it slide. The potential consequences are extraordinarily minimal. If she's dumb enough to try doing that when it matters, it'll bite her in the ass more than a little viciously. Until then, it's not really something for you to worry about.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:29 PM on November 5, 2010

This is what the hide person from feed feature is great for on facebook.
posted by Zophi at 12:29 PM on November 5, 2010 [11 favorites]

Frankly, it just sounds like sad, and someone will point it out sooner or later (google's not that hard to use). Why should you insert yourself into this? What do you have to gain? Unless you are a mentor/close to this person, let it go.
posted by seventyfour at 12:30 PM on November 5, 2010

"sounds like sad"= "sounds sad"
posted by seventyfour at 12:30 PM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

It depends on your wife's relationship with her cousin. If she wants to smile at family get-togethers and make small talk, then drop it and ignore the cousin's output on facebook. If she's ever been somewhat close, or if she doesn't mind dropping a bomb on her cousin's pool of friends and possibly gain some hostility, feel free to clue her in that you know she's a plagiarist.

Really, her cousin isn't posting these for herself; she's posting them so that her facebook contacts will have a certain view of her. If they're bright she already know she's a fake (or a flake) are are acting accordingly. If they haven't already figured it out, do you really want to jump into a series of interactions with a lot of people you don't know?
posted by mikeh at 12:32 PM on November 5, 2010

publically posted email address? Maybe a simple anonymous email with links to the poems as written by their original authors?
posted by utsutsu at 12:32 PM on November 5, 2010

I often post MetaFilter posts on my FB page without attributing correctly. It gives me a secret thrill. I am sure your friend's sister's cousin's sister feels the same way - except it's not secret in her case.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:32 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

If it were me, I'd post a link to the google result for "first line of poem" as a comment on the facebook note. But I'm kind of a butthead.
posted by phunniemee at 12:35 PM on November 5, 2010 [28 favorites]

As far as legal consequences, we don't have the slightest idea where you live, Vermont or Vanuatu. In the US, as long as the infringer hasn't built a reputation or a business off the transgression they'll likely just get a letter from an attorney ordering to cease and desist.

As far as the family aspect, it's probably better to stay out of this; confronting the cousin will likely just result in a lot of awkwardness since they're presumably doing this out of insecurity or esteem issues. Helping them with that is probably the best thing to do, if anything... maybe you can find some books that (indirectly) inspire creativity and originality. Or you can wait until they grow out of it or some life-changing experience comes along.
posted by crapmatic at 12:35 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

No offense, but this question makes you sound both a little petty, and a little nosey.

If she's "twenty-something," then she's an adult. Do you think you are going to change her opinions about plagiarism, or is it just that you are annoyed by her behavior because it's not 'fair' and you want to confront her about it? If you want to confront her about something that is clearly not a big deal*, as well as causing you no harm whatsoever, then you're essentially asking for a fight.

My advice is to let this inform your opinion of this person, but don't bother to bring it up unless she does (either by asking you what you think directly, or lauding herself as some kind of poetic genius right in front of you). Otherwise, just let her do her thing and mind your own business.

Incidentally, what were you doing googling her poems? Check to see if they were plagiarized?

*She posted these poems to Facebook; it's not like she's going to get a book deal out of this.

posted by Pecinpah at 12:35 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Are they *famous* poems, or just poems written by somebody else? If they're the kind of thing that somebody who's reasonably into literature would likely recognize, then one reason to gently confront would be if it's better that it's your wife than for someone to be more hurtful about it later. Depends on how your wife and she get along. Is she getting "OMG you're so talented!" feedback from her friends, or might they be ignoring the drama princess?

If you wanted to be deceitfully wide-eyed, and spoil her fun, you could always reply to a post with "OMG I have loved that poem since high school when we were doing a unit on [author]! It's so totally my favorite, we almost used it at our wedding OMG!"
posted by aimedwander at 12:35 PM on November 5, 2010 [8 favorites]

Students plagiarizing term papers - that's a big issue. This, in my opinion, is not.

[of course, in both cases the sheer simple-mindedness of the action boggles the mind. It's soo easily detected...]
posted by Namlit at 12:36 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Post to Facebook a link to the current plagiarism scandal with Judith Griggs (via the blue) mentioning how terrible it is that Ms. Griggs is stealing words from someone else, but hoping that the lawsuits don't ruin her life forever because it's really not that huge of a lesson to learn.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:37 PM on November 5, 2010 [6 favorites]

Unless she has figured out a way to get paid for Facebook updates, just ignore it. There are no consequences to this behavior. Perhaps at sixteen it would have been good to sit her down and make up for her school's failure at instilling a sense of propriety w/r/t plagiarism. At twentysomething it will do little more than piss her off.
posted by griphus at 12:38 PM on November 5, 2010

I guess this depends on how much you care about plagiarism. Me, I despise plagiarists with the heat of a thousand supernovae, so I would definitely call this person out, and publicly too. It's bad enough that she ripped off other people's work at all, but to actually say she wrote it when challenged is just nasty.

But like I say, that's me. The question for you is how much do you care?
posted by Decani at 12:40 PM on November 5, 2010 [5 favorites]

It could be a big deal if this cousin went into academics, politics, or journalism. But that's her problem, not yours. Let it go.
posted by chairface at 12:40 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Next time she posts a poem, a comment like "wow your poems are wonderful! They remind me of the works of [real author's name]. How inspirational!" This lets her know you are onto her. Anyone who doesn't know might not register what's going on here.

That's pretty passive-aggressive though, so you need to decide how much you care. Her behaviour would irritate me on principle, so I would be pretty tempted to do that, but it depends on your relationship with this cousin and the rest of the family.

You could argue that she needs to learn a valuable lesson about how easy it is to be caught cheating in the days of google. Being caught when posting stuff on facebook only risks losing face. Being caught cheating submitting someone else's academic work, or something at your job risks a lot greater.
posted by Joh at 12:40 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

If it were me, I'd feel a mixture of pity and smugness every time I saw the cousin from then on and leave it at that. Unless I were close to the cousin at all, and wanted to save her the public embarrassment she will inevitably face when someone does publicly out her plagiarism, in which case I'd send her a brief and to-the-point private note.
posted by ook at 12:42 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is attention-seeking and just plain dumb behavior from your cousin and honestly, I can see why you are perplexed/annoyed/confused. Others are probably on to her BS as well.

This would grate on my nerves but I would let it go. What kind of outcome you are hoping to achieve by calling her out? If you want reach out and possibly save her from embarrassment from the authors or her friends that is one thing. If you want to shame or ridicule, that's another.
posted by Fairchild at 12:49 PM on November 5, 2010

Response by poster: Wow, so many answers so fast. Thanks.

Our bias was to ignore it, but when my wife was online and saw that status, I guess she couldn’t help herself and asked that “play dumb” question. I acknowledge this is slightly nosey and petty, and we most definitely do not care enough to cause any family riffs.

I guess we were both sort of curious as to the consequences for her cousin. If the consequences are substantial, we’d hate to have laughed it off if we could’ve nipped it in the bud. (Her cousin is in Ohio if that matters.)

As for the genesis of us finding this…

I am not FB friends with my wife’s twenty-something cousin. Her cousin posted one poem and tagged a bunch of family members (not sure why she tagged them as opposed to just letting it show in their newsfeeds, but whatever), one them being my wife. So it showed in my newsfeed.

It showed up one night while my wife and I were watching TV and I was surfing on the laptop. I mentioned to my wife that she’d been tagged in a poem by her cousin. My wife said let’s hear it. I read it aloud. My wife said no way her cousin wrote that. Googled it. Saw her cousin had posted 2 other poems (w/o tagging family members), then Googled those.
posted by glenngulia at 12:52 PM on November 5, 2010

Sorry, guess I'm also a petty asshole, but I wouldn't think much of posting a link to the plagiarized poem on the note. Or, sending her a private message with links to the poems.

I do, as a rule, have little patience for people who attempt to construct extra clever personalities for themselves on social networking sites.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 1:02 PM on November 5, 2010 [10 favorites]

Look someone who is posting easily googlable poems and then denying it when you bring it up, even an an obtuse way, probably has more self-esteem issues than you want to touch with a 6ft Facebook pole.
posted by geoff. at 1:02 PM on November 5, 2010 [8 favorites]

The potential consequences are extraordinarily minimal.

That's true in many cases—unless she wants to get a job in media, in book publishing, at a blog, at a university, at a public school, at a bank or financial services or at a law office, or to pass the bar, or to ever work at any one of the thousands of business in the United States that either frown upon plagiarism or consider dishonesty a real red flag in hiring. (Though of course some of them may miss this.) Guess what: big corporations do check your social networks. (I mean, come on, financial service companies have fingerprint-dusting setups to check mail and the like. This is a world in which corporations employ keystroke-logging to track employees; you think they don't look at your Facebook and Twitter?)

That being said, I still wouldn't bring it up with her. She's over 16. What's useful about this modern era is that there is actually a public or semi-public record of what people think is right and wrong.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 1:07 PM on November 5, 2010

FYI Facebook TOS states "We respect other people's rights, and expect you to do the same.

1. You will not post content or take any action on Facebook that infringes or violates someone else's rights or otherwise violates the law.
2. We can remove any content or information you post on Facebook if we believe that it violates this Statement."

Essentially all the cousin has to worry about, even if it is discovered, is FB removing the content (which I'm sure she could invent a cover story to explain) OR someone else calling her out on her page publicly or privately.
posted by miss-lapin at 1:08 PM on November 5, 2010

If she is thinking about any sort of writing career, her facebook posts are set to public AND your wife has a good relationship with her, then maybe at the next family gathering she could (privately) express her concern for the consequences of taking credit for these poems. Maybe also tell her she would love to see her original work because she has always been so creative, etc.

If not all three of the above are true then drop it. Probably some of her friends know and don't care, some don't know, one may eventually call her out on it - but it doesn't really affect you or her long-term prospects in life.

This is like the office comedian who tries to pass of routines he hears on tv as his own. Having some kind of comedy confrontation at work is not worth the disruption.
posted by mikepop at 1:14 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

What geoff said.

I don't blame you for googling. The fact that she's trying to gain reputation or self esteem by having other people read "her" poetry on facebook, would have me concerned about larger issues. Issues that you probably have no place, ability or hopefully intentions to help her with. Since she's 20+ and not 16, I'd say giving her parents a heads up isn't a good idea either.

Stay away. Or go watch the movie Catfish.
posted by fontophilic at 1:15 PM on November 5, 2010

I wouldn't do anything. Unless the poems were so ridiculous that I could send a link with,"OMG. This Emily Dickenson bitch is totally ripping off your awesome Facebook poems."
posted by artychoke at 1:31 PM on November 5, 2010 [10 favorites]

If I was your wife I would comment on the note with a link to teh actual poem accredited to teh real author, but I'm sort of a dick. I come from a family of dicks though so we are all used to dishing it out and owning up to our own stupidity, not being mortally embarrassed by it, and good at having a laugh at the whole situation and moving on. YMMV.
posted by WeekendJen at 1:44 PM on November 5, 2010

If you like her, you could privately point out to her that it's no big deal to you but that anyone who knows anything about poetry would realize that she is ripping off poets X, Y, and Z, that people who know poetry are probably already aware of this and just not saying anything, and that someday someone might point this all out in public and make her look really silly to the people she's trying to impress.

If you don't like her, you could ignore it and let dig her own trap.
posted by pracowity at 1:54 PM on November 5, 2010

I am in the "say something" camp. No matter how old you are, plagiarism is just wrong. She specifically included your wife in her posting, so it's not like she's going out her way to humiliate her cousin. Tell her this is wrong and she should stop.
posted by dellsolace at 2:00 PM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't know why people think it's mean or dickish to expose something that is clearly a lie. Forget about this being plagiarism in particular, and just imagine it is any other kind of lie someone might publish. Just reply to their post with the word "False".
posted by klausman at 2:04 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well maybe I'm an asshole (ok, almost certainly), but I think that by tagging your wife, the cousin was totally asking for it. There is just no way I would be able to resist temptation and let it slide, so for me the nice option would be to say something to her privately, and the mean but hilarious (and not totally undeserved, since she was clearly seeking out attention) thing would be to call her out publicly on her wall. But a) I am not a nice person and b) my family doesn't have family reunions or lots of other opportunities to have awkward interactions with relatives you have been mean to in the past, so ymmv.
posted by naoko at 2:10 PM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think if you must handle it then your wife should start posting different poems by the same author.

When the summer fields are mown,
When the birds are fledged and flown,
And the dry leaves strew the path;
With the falling of the snow,
With the cawing of the crow,
Once again the fields we mow
And gather in the aftermath.
-wifey (thanks for inspiring me to write! @Cousin'sfbname)

I would just leave it alone. This whole thing sounds pretty sad, to be honest.
posted by zephyr_words at 2:19 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't be concerned directly about the facebook poems, but I would be concerned if she's also currently going to university. If she's plagiarizing poems on facebook and she's thinks she's getting away with it, it's not impossible that she'd think she could also get away with it in school as well. Plagiarism in school could have huge consequences.

People do have a tendency to shoot the messenger so I understand why some mefites are saying to just say nothing and avoid drama. That being said there is an opportunity to save her some embarrassment because inevitably someone is going to figure it out.

An anonymous email may be the best way to go about things in this situation. It's not passive-aggressive in my opinion, rather it provides her a method to save face. She won't be embarrassed in front of your wife in future meetings but she gets an opportunity to fix her mistakes before someone catches her and embarrasses her in public.
posted by ajackson at 2:30 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Post on her wall saying a bunch of random authors on the internet are stealing her work. Include the links to the original poems.
posted by jockc at 2:57 PM on November 5, 2010 [5 favorites]

Why do you guys care so much? There are better things to do with your time than shaming or humiliating a relative who obviously suffers from self-esteem issues and isn't very intelligent. Leave her be. What do you get out of it? Being morally correct?

Be polite, look the other way. This cousin has problems and they aren't your problems and do not require any of your attention or energy.
posted by anniecat at 2:58 PM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

That being said there is an opportunity to save her some embarrassment because inevitably someone is going to figure it out.

I agree. If you figured out that she's plagiarizing, then it's likely that other people will, too.

In fact, this is what I would say. If I cared about the person (even in just a mild way), I would send them a private message that said as much:

"Hey, I don't want to make this into a big deal, but I know that these poems weren't actually written by you. I'm a little concerned because you could get into big trouble with this. Other people could notice too, and once you get a reputation for plagiarizing it can be really hard to shake. It's not worth it."

I would try my best to avoid coming across as judgmental, even though I really do disapprove. This still might cause drama and hurt feelings, of course.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:04 PM on November 5, 2010 [5 favorites]

My rule is as soon as someone on facebook annoys me twice I turn off seeing their posts in the settings and I am SO MUCH HAPPIER.
posted by nanojath at 3:14 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

If she's in school (college at her age) or planning to go to school I would send her a warning shot that not only can people use google but famous poetry and writing is famous for a reason, it's good, and you don't have to be an expert to tell the difference between a twenty-somethings Facebook hobby and great work. Not that there aren't great writers in their twenties but thats not the point. People are going to be suspicious and if she at some point does this in an academic setting there could be serious consequences. I would send her a message saying you don't want to embarrass her but this is not ok and she needs to think not only about the consequences to herself but the ethical implications of what she is doing. On the other hand if this is simply a game she is playing on Facebook that you can't see occurring in other parts of her life (work/school) do nothing, she wants attention, don't give it to her in any form.
posted by boobjob at 3:25 PM on November 5, 2010 [4 favorites]

I wouldn't try to be jokey or snide, I would just comment one of the poems, like: "Hey X, I found this poem on the web, did you really write this yourself? [LINK]"

Let her respond. I guess I'm kind of argumentative like that. I wouldn't, in my comment, try ot make it a big deal, but I am pretty anti-plagiarism myself.
posted by smoke at 5:32 PM on November 5, 2010

Send her a letter from a publishing house saying someone forwarded a sample of her poems to them. Ask for rights to publish them. Or call her "from" a newspaper, say the same thing, ask to interview her for a profile piece.

She needs to get a little scare about the reality of putting stuff online: it can get away. People you didn't intend to see it sometimes will.
posted by ctmf at 5:40 PM on November 5, 2010

Since your wife was actually tagged by the cousin, and it didn't just appear passively in her news feed, I think it would make sense for your wife to address the cousin directly and privately about this. But she should first wait until the cousin goes ahead and posts whatever poem it is she claimed to be working on, if she even does now that your wife has questioned her about them. It's possible that was enough to give the cousin second thoughts, and maybe the cousin suspects your wife was just trying to be nice by not coming out and saying she knows the poems aren't hers.

I think trying to publicly shame this person in front of all of her friends and family would be the wrong way to go about things. She's trying to impress her family by giving them the impression she wrote these great poems, which is just a sad and desperate thing to do. If all she's doing is posting these things to Facebook and isn't going to try to make a name for herself with them, I think all your wife should do is kindly let her cousin know that anyone who knows how to use Google can find out she didn't write those poems, and then drop it. Your wife has a good cover because now she can say the poem sounded so familiar that she googled it, and she was shocked to find that it had another author.
posted by wondermouse at 6:15 PM on November 5, 2010

Plagiarism is stealing. Perhaps your cousin doesn't know this. If she were shop-lifted clothes, would you ignore that?
I would find a way to communicate your thoughts to her - gently and privately. Tell her once, then let it go.
posted by valannc at 10:06 PM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Definitely say something. And while a private message is far more tactful, I'm tempted to say that since she publicly posted this and then didn't take the, admittedly round-a-bout, path to clear this up, make a public comment. I mean, what's next? Is she going to post a note containing Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" or some other short story as her own?

I'm also tempted to know whether these are relatively well-known poems or something off of someone's site.
posted by DisreputableDog at 9:14 PM on November 6, 2010

"Dear Cousin,

I'm sending you this message privately because the last thing on earth I want to do is embarrass you in front of your friends, but I felt like I had to say something.

Basically, I'm a little worried about you. You're a creative, talented person. [Your Facebook pics are always amazing; you really understand photography / I've always been a little jealous of your fabulous singing voice / You have a real eye for fashion; I'm always impressed at the fabulous outfits you come up with / Some other compliment.] So I guess I don't understand why you're hiding behind the talent of others. Posting other people's poems as your own? Come on, Cousin, you're better than that.

I guess we all have days where our self-esteem is low and we feel like nobody appreciates us. (Lord knows I do!) When you need a quick pick-me-up, it can be real tempting to do something unethical for cheap praise, but that's all it is - cheap.

You need to have faith that people will see your real talents, because like I said before, you truly are a talented person. And if you're ever having a bad self-esteem day and feel like nobody appreciates you, remember that I appreciate you and I'm only ever a phone call away.

glenngulia's wife."

This is basically what she needs to hear: that she's not worthless and she doesn't need to steal poems in order to be valued. I have no idea whether they're close enough that your wife can tell her that, but somebody needs to. The plagiarism is a symptom, not the disease.
posted by the latin mouse at 12:47 PM on November 7, 2010

The plagiarism isn't a big issue, its the lying and pretending.

That's what plagiarism is. It's lying and pretending about a piece of writing.

I'm kind of confused, I have to say... she's 20-something, but posting poems under her name that come up as the first search result under another author's name? That seems really obtuse. Is there any explanation for how she could think that would be a good idea? Not too bright? Are the poems otherwise obscure? Any chance she wrote them and put them up on another website by a different name or something weird like that?

If I were her teacher, I'd definitely have a talk with her. As her cousin, I'd probably shake my head in confusion and leave it alone, unless she starts talking about applying for things or publishing. Someone closer to her is almost certain to catch this though...
posted by mdn at 3:20 PM on November 7, 2010

I would suggest that the wife contact the cousin via facebook and say:

"Hey! I loved the poem you posted. I found it a bit odd that you claimed you wrote it when so-and-so did - just wanted to give you a headsup that other people might find out too. Be yourself cuz. All the best"
posted by stealabove at 12:13 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Post the first poem she plagiarized onto Facebook with the correct attribution.
posted by spaltavian at 6:43 PM on November 9, 2010

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