On the edge of plagiarism: Hazards of Blogging

First I see the story on Slashdot, looking like this: “An anonymous reader writes ‘It didn’t seem to me like any single company had the stomach to keep after the scum that are ruining the Net for the rest of us. Unless that company is Microsoft. Since the beginning of 2003, Microsoft has filed 96 lawsuits against spammers, and 119 lawsuits against phishers. By any measure, 215 lawsuits constitutes a legal juggernaut.'” Posted by CmdrTaco himself, one would think this might be real. But follow the link

The link is to a ZDNet blog post by David Berlind. This contains the source of the quote: “Second, it didn’t seem to me like any single company had the stomach to keep after the scum that are ruining the Net for the rest of us.” Not exactly an anonymous reader.

Berlind links to a story written by Matt Hines, which makes clear that Microsoft has been targeting phishers who have imitated Microsoft sites. Laudable to be sure, but Microsoft is certainly behaving much less altruistically than CmdrTaco’s “anonymous reader” suggests. Berlind mentions Microsoft’s focus in its lawsuits as well, but buries the information much further down.

If I got caught doing this in a university class, I would flunk the class and I could be expelled. I try to be so careful in writing academic papers that even if I think I have an original thought, I do a search on it, to try to see if someone else has written it as well, so I can cite them. Because no one will blame me for giving credit where credit is due.

I’ve been contemplating the issue of citations in blog postings. In theory, hyperlinks offer an improvement over traditional citation styles, in that they point you directly at the source document — which you can generally retrieve instantly. And an academic citation style wouldn’t have solved the problem in this case anyway, since CmdrTaco’s “anonymous reader” failed to cite the source for what was actually a quote at all, let alone do so properly.

But it is much too easy to get sloppy.

Author: benfell

David Benfell holds a Ph.D. in Human Science from Saybrook University. He earned a M.A. in Speech Communication from CSU East Bay in 2009 and has studied at California Institute of Integral Studies. He is an anarchist, a vegetarian ecofeminist, a naturist, and a Taoist.

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