Start Your Week Off Write: How Do You Vet Social Media Relationships?


Library of Congress, public domain

The online writing community has been abuzz with the sad news of a plagiarist in our midst who took advantage of others by plagiarizing large portions of his blog. The writing community involved in social media is normally very supportive and protective of one another so for one of their own to do this was a shock. I won’t go into the whole issue of plagiarism besides saying ‘Hello! It’s wrong – Don’t do it!’

Jami Gold wrote in detail about how people were affected in the post “How Bad Is Plagiarism?” Many writers worried this person’s actions would reflect poorly on them and spent the week trying to erase the online evidence of any interactions they might have had with this deceiver. Jami made this statement in her post:

“… everyone who believed in him wonders if they could have prevented this.  They also wonder how they could have been so misled.  But Terrell alone deserves the blame.  The fact that he succeeded with his intention to deceive them is not a reflection on their ability to judge someone’s character.”

This is true. No one should feel guilty that they were fooled by someone whose goal it was to fool others. But it got me wondering, with all the rush to make connections, obtain followers and build a social media platform that agents and publishers are insisting writers have, how do we determine if a connection on social media is ‘friend-worthy’? How can we avoid another situation like this?

We vet political candidates, employees, even babysitters. Maybe we need to start a vetting process for social media relationships.

The dictionary defines vetting as a process of examination and evaluation, generally referring to performing a background check on someone before offering employment, conferring an award, etc. In the journalism field news articles or stories may be vetted by fact-checkers, whose job it is to check the correctness of factual assertions made in news copy.

Do we need to become our own social media fact-checkers?

Here are some ideas on how to vet a potential social media writing relationship:

  1. Google their name.
  2. Check their Twitter account. Are there more than ‘buy my book’ posts? What is the image they project? Do they respond to others? Do they retweet other writers’ posts?
  3. Check their Facebook account. Is it a fan page or a personal page? Do their posts reflect the same ‘personality’ as their Twitter account and blog?
  4. Do they have a LinkedIn account? Do they have any recommendations?
  5. Do they have a blog? Read several posts on their blog, not just the latest but several from different time frames. Same personality and ‘flavor’? Do they respond to comments frequently? How do they respond to differing opinions? Do they rant or indulge in personal attacks?
  6. Based on what you know about them through their online profile, would you spend time with this person in real life, like at a workshop or conference? At lunch? Would you be interested in this person’s opinion on a piece of your writing? Would you trust their critique based on the writing skill reflected on their blog?
  7. If they offer any paid services, are there any references to type and quality? Google that, too.
  8. What do other community members whose opinion you trust have to say about this person? Any negative interactions?
  9. Interact with the person directly by commenting on a blog post or responding to a tweet. How do they respond?
  10. Finally what does your gut or intuition tell you about this person?

This seems like a lot of trouble to go through just to add another follower to your Facebook or Twitter account. Even after taking all these steps, there is still no way to truly surmise the ‘follow’ or ‘friend’ worthiness of someone. I’m reminded of a wisdom saying from an old book:

“Those who walk with the wise grow wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.”

You might be able to spot a fool right away in everyday life, but what about virtually? A fool might be able to hide in plain sight for quite a while. I believe people will eventually show their true selves. Most writing folks (especially the ones I have met online) are kind and compassionate and just offering and looking for support, but there are a few who are rude, unprofessional, have ulterior motives or are just plain crazy. That’s what the delete button is for. Will someone else’s foolishness reflect on you because you are connected to them on social media? Should it? What can we do about it? 

12 thoughts on “Start Your Week Off Write: How Do You Vet Social Media Relationships?

  1. I had not followed this story, but it does give me chills. I’ve certainly heard others warn of protecting your work on-line (both words and photos) and yet I’ve never given it much time or thought. I taught at a university for many years and had a strong, negative reaction to plagiarism that occurred by students. I’m sure I could write into that topic and find some interesting personal tidbits!

    I must say it sounds rather exhausting to vet everyone on social media, but of course you are right that we need to be responsible in that way. I think I do a moderate job of paying attention to who is friending me, but your list gives me some new places to explore.

    So – do you check out who leaves comments and delete the suspicious ones? Happily, my spam plug-in does a good job for me, but that’s another place to watch for bad connections.

    Judy Stone-Goldman (not a spammer and not a plagiarist!)
    The Reflective Writer
    http://www.thereflectivewriter.com/blog/
    Personal-Professional Balance Through Writing

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  2. Yes, Judy, it does sound exhausting, and I have to admit that up until this time I haven’t been that thorough in my social media friending. I’ve met a lot of awesome writer types sharing the journey and I’ve learned so much from all of them. I’ve also easily avoided the obvious spam bot types who beg for people to buy their book 63 times a day on Twitter or Facebook. But I will be a bit more cautious from now on to hopefully avoid any wolves-in-sheep’s clothing types.

    As far as comments, I haven’t had any suspicious ones yet. I guess I need a bigger readership before I have to worry about that. 🙂 My spam catcher has so far only had non-English speakers trying to sell me things. 🙂

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  3. I do check out people’s profiles on FB and LinkedIn before accepting friends. I also learned how to create FB lists so I can block certain of my FB posts from, say, my business friends. I will also block Twitter followers who look like spammers or sleazy people or just people trolling for followers. As far as I know, there is no way to block certain people from viewing your blog, though.

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    • I haven’t used LinkedIn before but think I will start. Not that someone couldn’t fudge everything there as well, but at least you can see if anyone has any recommendations.
      I’ve blocked many accounts on Twitter, there’s a lot of trolling going on. I keep getting one spammer that has tried to get me to follow them on several different accounts. Only problem, they keep using the photo of the same pretty girl on all of them. Guess I wasn’t supposed to notice. 🙂

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  4. I certainly wouldn’t do all this before following someone on Twitter (or even friending them on Facebook). But I am more picky when it comes to FB Likes or when I’m judging how much to trust their advice on something (from advice in a blog post to a beta read, etc.).

    All in all, I think these are some great tips to keep in mind. Thanks!

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  5. Most people are great and looking for a sense of community and friendship. In my humble opinion, it is also a good idea to practice some sense of caution. Great post Kristin!

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    • I agree, Christy. Most people are awesome who have a lot to offer online communities. Just like in real life, we just need to use regular common sense and listen to our intuition if our ‘antennae go up’ concerning someone. Thanks for the comment!

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  6. Thanks Jami! It does seem like overkill to try and take all these steps for one friend or follow, but I think at the least making an informed decision about who is having access to you and your circle of influence is worth taking a little time out for. Of course, if someone has thousands of friends/followers, it’s completely impractical. But if that’s the case, they probably won’t notice any individual’s naughty social media behaviors anyway. 🙂 Thanks for your great post that got me thinking about this!

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    • Absolutely! It’s important to make sure those in our inner circle are valid. I didn’t mean to imply that I disagreed with your take on it. 🙂

      I just knew that I couldn’t keep up with doing all that checking on my Twitter followers. I try not to follow bots or spammers, but I probably accidentally follow some. LOL!

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      • LOL I didn’t think you were disagreeing, just being practical. 🙂 I think we have the same view on this subject. Besides, if you did disagree, that’s what all this discussion business is about, thinking about things from different points of view. I think you are one of the most pleasant bloggers out there. Feel free to disagree anytime. 😉

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  7. Pingback: Sharing is Caring: My Weekly Finds | Barbara McDowell's Blog

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