On Internet Etiquette

There is a place for giving credit where it is due online:

Let me begin by saying that some of my articles might be more weighty or important than others. For what it is worth, this one may not be all that crucial or necessary. Let’s say it is just a little mini-rant on something I think about now and then. So it will be short and sweet, and it is something that you can take with a grain of salt if need be.

OK, this piece is really about social media etiquette, but my title version has a nicer ring to it. And this article even has a more narrow focus: that of giving credit where it is due, and avoiding plagiarism – or at least unintentional plagiarism. Yes I know, the social media is not like writing a book or an academic paper, but similar sorts of rules can and should apply.

Too often I see folks sharing stuff on the social media as if they were the originators of it (a meme, a quote, an article, a post, etc). Sure, often things can be quite generic or universal and no credit or reference is needed. And quite often no one knows who was the one who first posted something or wrote something, so it is not always easy to give credit where it is due.

So I am not trying to be a hard-nosed legalist here. But sometimes a simple acknowledgement is helpful and useful. Often just a simple h/t (hat tip) is a polite way to share something of someone else and give them a brief acknowledgement.

Or simply saying, ‘this is from my friend Joe Blow’ and the like can be of use. I am not sure if there are any hard and fast rules for sharing on the wild west of the social media, but common sense should prevail, as well as simply being kind to others.

If a meme appears on my page and I am not sure where it first came from, I might just share it as is. But if someone I know writes something that is profound or important, and it is clear that he spent some time and effort putting it together, it is only proper to say who first wrote it or made it, and not try to pass it off as my own.

Some folks might complain that it takes a few extra seconds to add an acknowledgement. Hmm, first world problems. If you cannot find a few spare seconds to do the right thing, you might be too busy to be on the social media! It is just about recognising what others have done, and giving them a bit of credit.

In terms of what I share, if it is something I have written, and if it comes from an article on my own website, I almost always will put the quote in a post, and then in the first comment below it I will provide a link to the article of mine that it comes from. That way if folks want more info on it, they can go straight to the source.

Some kind folks who share my stuff will do the same: they will post what I had said, and then give the link to the article as well. Thanks for doing that guys. I know it takes extra time, but it is appreciated. But on the other hand there are some folks who will just take something I had written, and just post it on their own page without a word said of where they got it from.

Yes there is an extremely rare chance that this person has said the exact same thing as I have, or he is quoting from the very same book that I did. But it is not all that likely! Usually if you press ‘share’ the source of it appears with the meme or quote – but not always. So if you are copying and pasting something, again, it just takes a few more seconds to acknowledge the source.

Let’s say you share a quote from some writer you actually never heard of, and from a book you are totally unfamiliar with. Well, presumably the one who first posted it DOES know the author and the book, and hopefully is just sharing from what he has been reading. For you to just copy and share it as is without a word of acknowledgement or source can be at the very least misleading – almost a type of plagiarism. People might think, ‘well he is very learned to be reading such authors.’

OK, perhaps I am being a bit picky here, but I find this happening to myself quite often. For example, I am pretty sure that some of the books I am reading and some of the authors I am referring to really are NOT all that well known, so it is unlikely that the one sharing it also got it from the same source.

Or sometimes I may have a long time reading, studying and writing things, and when I share something, it is just nice to get a bit of recognition and acknowledgement for all the work that went into it. Again, there is room to move here, with a lot of stuff in the public domain and the like. If someone posts a Bible verse for example, and I share it, do I need to name the one who first posted it?

Probably not. But if it is a Bible passage with some helpful commentary written by the one posting it, if I share that I really should give credit to its author. This is just showing some respect to others and giving honour and credit where it is due. And that is always a good thing.

As but one somewhat more notable example of this happening to me, someone who has an online ministry and sends out regular emails telling folks about new articles on it once posted a neat piece on revival, although no author was provided with it.

I thought it was quite good, and I also thought it sounded a bit familiar. So I simply googled a line from it, only to find that I was the original author of the piece! Hmm. So I let the fellow know that it was not some anonymous piece, but that I had written it. He said he had not known who had written it. Yes but… if it took me just a few seconds to find out where it came from, he could have done the same! Anyway, in his next email he did acknowledge who wrote the piece.

Again, we do not want to be legalistic and petty here. And some might say I am making a big stink about nothing. Yes, it could be. But Christians at least should be interested in treating others fairly and properly, and we should be people of truth.

That means we will not try to pass things off as our own – even unintentionally. It is about preferring others above yourself, and seeking to bless others and give them credit for what they are doing. As I say, it might take a few more seconds each time to give such credit, but it is worth doing.

In sum, this article may not seem like it was all that worthwhile to write – or read. That is possible. But I think Christians in all areas of life should seek to build up others, give credit to others when they do good, and try to be open about what we are sharing and where it comes from.

Or is that just me who feels this way?!

[1274 words]


12 Replies to “On Internet Etiquette”

  1. Only a pedantic bibliophile can truly understand how you feel, Bill.

  2. I agree with you Bill, but I just want to confirm that Dan Andrews’ future self-destruction and falling will be worse than Humpty Dumpty is from me and no one else.

  3. Yes, but we should never feel obliged to. I get so miffed when my attempted effort to defend the faith is ignored when someone who doesn’t trust God makes a point in favor of faith /truth – the point is they make a good point, but only ending in favor of their own put downs.
    Prominent editor of Times “Mathew Parris” shocked Brits by saying missionaries influence in Africa was positive (and a few stories on Christians), but doesn’t honor their work at all well. Apparently faith is OK for savages, mentally handicapped and dinosaurs. Thanks but no thanks.

  4. Bill, your article on this is welcome. And I think the same.
    What people write or create artistically is uniquely their property. Full stop.
    So to knowingly use someone else’s creative work and to present it in one’s own forum without appropriate acknowledgment is unthinkable.
    Even if the creator were to not specifically require it, it is healthy for me to herald from whence the quotation has originated if I know about the source. I believe this is called respect and is a sign of true gratefulness.
    If our goal is to glorify God, then passing off someone else’s labor as our own – or even giving room for someone to think so – is not compatible with our goal. And it would be bad for me.
    Thanks Bill for promoting integrity within various arenas including in the online ‘world’.

  5. Yes well I’m still waiting for the SBS and ABC to acknowledge all the inventions, technology and science that have come through Western culture which allow their TV stations to exist. They should acknowledging and thank the taxpayers who pay their salaries as well.

  6. Thanks for writing this. I share a lot of things and this is a good reminder to take the extra time and effort to be careful that I am attributing the post, quote or article to the author.

  7. I once associated with a group of Christians online who were of the opinion, they stated this, there are no copyrights in the Kingdom. Presumably this would extend to trademarks and other legal protections. It appears everything belongs to everyone and there is no private property. (So much so even your house/mansion in heaven they could just walk in anytime they want. They think you can walk though walls [like Christ though that is never mentioned in the Bible just that he appeared in the midst of them].)

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