Image courtesy of Butupa
It’s been an interesting day. Actually, it’s been an interesting couple of weeks. About two weeks ago, I took on an intersession class (one I have never taught before) a day after I had committed to writing the curriculum for a course that is due in a few days. On top of all of that, I have just finished up teaching and marking a TESL course. Needless to say, I’ve been a bit pre-occupied.
All of that sets up what transpired this morning. I was just settling down to dig into the last of the marking and to dig into the curriculum when I received a flood of pingbacks from my webtools list page. It isn’t unusual to get a few each week from that page, but this was a deluge all at once. A quick investigation showed that they were all from the same blog. Hmmmmmm. This seemed suspicious to me. I occasionally check out the pages that are pinging my page, but I am also a bit wary since some of these pages are nothing more than spam troll sites. After a bit of snooping, I decided to give it a go. I clicked on the link and to my amazement, there was my entire webtools page on someone else’s blog! To top it off, there was no sign of attribution to my site anywhere. Oh wait, there it is. Down, waaaaaaaaaay down at the bottom of the page. But wait, the author at the top of the page is the owner of the blog!
By this time, I was getting a bit worked up. The stress from the last couple of weeks coupled with the shock that someone would ‘steal’ my hard work pushed me over the edge. I have worked really hard on that page, literally spending hundreds of hours putting it together. I am all for sharing, but this seemed a few steps too far. I was determined to get this resolved here and now.
I managed to locate the profile page of the owner of the page and I decided to email him. This would give me more space to tell him why I was upset and what I would like to see done. I crafted a carefully worded email that bordering on upset and understanding. I tried not to make too many assumptions about his reasoning for doing what he did, but I also wanted him to know that I felt cheated by his actions. I think I did a decent job on the email (although, I would change a few things now after re-reading it, but it wasn’t that bad).
I should have left it there, but no, I was upset. I spotted his Twitter account and decided to see if he had tweeted the post as his own. Yep. There it was. Click on more information and there he is listed as the author of the post. Boom. I had had enough. Out came the snark. I decided to take the passive-aggressive approach first. I sent a vague tweet without mentioning the ‘accused’, but clearing saying I was not happy with someone ‘stealing’ my work. Done. Not quite. Temptation was pulling me in. I thought I should send a tweet to him directly telling him in short order to pull my post from his site. Fine. It is likely only him that will see it. Hmmm. What if I was to publish it on my timeline for all my readers to see? Done. Sent.
I received a couple of comments, favourites, and retweets. This somehow seemed to justify what I had just done. It got me thinking. I wonder if he does this with other people’s posts. Yep. There were even a couple that didn’t have any attribution. I did a quick Google search. One of those posts is from George Couros. He has a ton of followers! I know, I’ll get him involved. That will teach this guy not to steal our posts. I sent a quick tweet to George. There. Done.
Then it all started to unravel. In the back of my mind, I knew I didn’t feel good about what I had done. I don’t know this man or his intentions. It could be a simple mistake. Just then, he replied to my tweet. Here I was, halfway between feeling guilty and still feeling angry about what had happened. He offered to just link to me and leave the post. I refused. I asked him how he would feel if he was a book author who just had his book republished in its entirety with a different author on the cover and his name buried at the end of the book. He apologized and offered to remove the whole thing.
By this time, it was really sinking in. I had screwed up. I had ‘shamed’ this man on the public stage of Twitter without finding out his story. Here he was, a teacher wanting to help his fellow educators by sharing the valuable things he finds on the internet. No, he wasn’t doing it ‘correctly’, but his intentions were good. He hadn’t intended to ‘steal’ my work. He really did feel terrible about doing this to me. He handled it perfectly, even in the face of my attack. We eventually worked things out and he changed his post to show the introduction of my page with a direct link to my post. To me, that is a win / win.
Now I was stuck with the choice to delete my tweets, or leave them out there. If I delete them, I feel I am covering up what I have done. If I leave them, others might only see part of the story and think poorly of this man. I have decided to leave them up and to write this post instead. Upon further reflection, I felt there was a number of important lessons to be taken from this unfortunate incident.
- If you have a blog and would like to share a post you find on someone else’s site, please don’t post the whole thing without their permission. The best thing to do is to share a short ‘snippet’ from their post with a link to their post, maybe with a short commentary on why your decided to re-blog it on your own site.
- If you are ever tempted to publically ‘shame’ someone on social media, take a deep breath and back away from the keyboard. Take the time to find out the bigger picture. Try to contact them directly and then work from that.
- One class related lesson reinforced for me through this incident is in the area of student plagiarism. I have learned over the years that plagiarism is a much more complex issue than what we make it. In this situation, the man hadn’t meant to ‘steal’ my work, but the online culture doesn’t see it that way. There is a procedure to follow and he hadn’t done that. That is the same for my students. There is a culture of attribution with complex rules that some of them either don’t see as that important or find too difficult to follow and decide to chance it. As a teacher, I need to take the time to show them in clear, simple ways how they can avoid these pitfalls and create a safe place to make mistakes in a low stakes situation.
Throughout this post, I have avoided using the man’s name for fear that my story would lead others to think poorly of him. Now that I have shown how it was a simple error on his part and how he was quick to rectify the situation with no hard feelings towards me, I feel it is appropriate to apologize to him directly here and now. Nicholas, I am truly sorry for being so hasty in judging you and for tarnishing your name in front of so many people. I wish you well and I hope this incident doesn’t prevent us from learning from one another in the future. I wish you all the best.