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Tilting at windmills: cite your sources!

An argument for providing sources for content you create and share across social media.

Today’s Don Quixote post: credit your sources, please.

A long time ago, most of us had at least one class (probably English) where our teachers tried to instill in us a respect for the ideas of others. One way to illustrate that respect: cite those ideas, provide a list of sources. (Failure to do so, you might remember, could result in charges of plagiarism.)

 If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. ~Isaac Newton 

Tilting at windmills
It is so damn easy to share digital content today. We need to cite sources not just because we might be building on someone else’s ideas.

We need to cite sources so that others can trace the path back to the original source and/or so that the original source can get the credit she deserves and/or so that we don’t find ourselves enticing our friends to share items that Snopes has discredited.

Citations are far easier for the web than when we had to use APA style or MLA style.

All you need to do is share the URL — the link — where you found/saw the item: a photo, a news clip, a video, a quote …

It’s nice to share more information (see guidelines for citing sources in Wikipedia articles) in the event that the site goes tits up or the publisher reorganizes the site and breaks all the links.  Helpful information includes the date you shared the item — which, if you are sharing on Facebook or Twitter, is part of the shared item — and the date it was published.

But really, just sharing the source URL would be a huge step in the right direction.

Why this message today?

My cardinal rule on sharing is this:

 If something seems too good (or too bad) to be true, check before sharing!

That’s because folks count on an emotional response to get us to share their content. Trigger a knee-jerk reaction, not a reasoned one.

I broke my own cardinal rule this morning.

I know better than share image from “celebrities” and I’ve been burned by sharing stuff from George Takei before. In other words, I know better.

But the message jibed with my (obviously) low opinion of Wal-Mart. So I clicked that share button, despite having a whisper of doubt: I double-checked the spelling of Hanukkah. (Why would Wal-Mart, of all places, spell it Chanukah?)

Chanukah Photo Is Not Wal-Mart
Chanukah Photo Is Not From Wal-Mart

Facebook posters (agitprop)

This isn’t the only Facebook post from the weekend where sourcing would be useful.

Facebook: Don Blankenship Indicted
Facebook: Don Blankenship Indicted

Kudos: Rainforest Action Network links to the AP story that is the basis for the text on their agitprop poster (the FB photo).

But no where do they tell us where they lifted the photo of Don Blankenship.

It’s not on their own Flickr stream; perhaps that image of Blankenship isn’t sufficiently disdainful.

It’s not the photo accompanying the AP story; that’s a different Alex Wong photo (Getty) from 20 May 2010 Senate hearings.

It looks a lot like this Andrew Harrer photo (Bloomberg/Getty) from the same hearing. But it appears to be lifted from this 2011 Rolling Stone article or this April HuffPo article; both feature the same Alex Wong photo (Getty).

Is the agitprop poster fair use of a copyrighted photo from 2010? Maybe. I don’t know; IANAL.

But I think it is “fair” for readers to know that a photo taken 20 May 2010 is being using to illustrate an indictment that happened on 13 November 2014.

So the next time you create content to share with your digital social networks, also give us the original source.

That link will go a long way towards creating a “paper trail” as well as a “credit trail.”

Header image: fair use of Picasso b/w print, which hangs on my wall; visit the Picasso Museum in Barcelona.

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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