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:
- Google their name.
- 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?
- 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?
- Do they have a LinkedIn account? Do they have any recommendations?
- 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?
- 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?
- If they offer any paid services, are there any references to type and quality? Google that, too.
- What do other community members whose opinion you trust have to say about this person? Any negative interactions?
- Interact with the person directly by commenting on a blog post or responding to a tweet. How do they respond?
- 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?