(Photo credit: Dzenina Lukac from Pexels) Social media's just full of great content (and some not-so-great stuff too, but I'm not here to talk about that today). So it's only natural that we want to share our favourite stuff with friends and promote the accounts we love. But too often I see instances of people who've (presumably) tried to share someone else's picture/words/video and inadvertently plagiarised it instead. It's great to share, but not to steal. Plagiarism on social media is a thing: it causes a lot of upset and it's important to know how to avoid getting caught up in it.
So what counts as plagiarism or stealing on social media?
We're talking really about any time you share someone else's work in a way that passes it off as your own.
If you're an artist, writer, photographer, or anyone sharing creative content online, you don't want that pinched by someone who shares it as their own work. But this happens. The reasons range from brazen theft (where someone advertises and sells your hard work to make money for themselves) to simple misunderstanding of how sharing on social media works. Most of what I see online tends to be the latter.
Why does it matter?
It hurts small, independent creators more than big names. If you like that cartoonist on Instagram, or that poet on Facebook, then you want them to succeed enough to keep on drawing and writing the stuff you love. That's tough when a little-known artist isn't getting credit for their work. How are they supposed to make a living from their work when no one knows they're the person behind it?
And ultimately, it's about what's fair. If I want to be trustworthy on social media, my followers need to know I'm not claiming anyone else's work as my own, and that they can be sure I'll give them the credit they deserve.
As I said before, some people do this on purpose, knowing full well what they're up to. For others, it's an honest mistake, but one you can easily avoid.
So, what do you need to know to make sure you're not plagiarising on social media? At its simplest, if you share someone else's post, make sure you credit them and/or clearly link back to them and their content. The exact way to do that varies a bit depending where on the internet you are.
Let's break it down by platform:
Twitter has to be the easiest place to share someone's post without it straying into copyright infringement. Use the Retweet button to share something you like. It'll appear on your feed and the original author's name will be clearly visible. They'll get a notification when you retweet them too.
When you click the retweet button, you'll also be offered the option to quote tweet. This is also fine, but be aware that unless you tag the original author, they may not see any comments or likes on your quote tweet.
DO: Use the retweet button.
DON'T: Copy and paste someone's tweet so you can share it as your own.
Now Instagram is interesting because there's no direct way to share someone else's post to your grid. If you really want to do that, you can download the Regram app and then it will share the original post with a little icon in the bottom left corner to show it's a reshare. If you do this, you'll want to tag the original Instagrammer in your caption. And it's good practice to name them at the TOP of your caption, since not everyone will read the whole thing. The best place for sharing posts on Instagram is in Stories. Tap that little paper aeroplane icon under the post and select Add Post to Your Story. (If you don't follow the account, or it's a private profile, you won't be able to share to your Stories.) Instagram will automatically include the name of the original poster in your story, and make it so that anyone can click through to the original poster's profile, so that's good for making sure they get credited. However, they won't be able to see that you've shared their post unless you manually tag them in the Story as well (and this is usually worth doing as people are likely to be really happy knowing you've supported them in this way).
A quick note on screengrabs. If you're viewing Instagram on your phone, then you do have the extremely easy and convenient option to take a screengrab, download it to your phone and then share that image. However, in most circumstances this is not the best route! It doesn't make it obvious who created that image in the first place, and it doesn't automatically link back to the profile of the original poster.
But what if their account is private, so I can't share to Stories, can I do a screengrab then? Well, still usually no. Because they probably set their account as private for a reason, and want some say in who sees their posts. If you think you've got a really strong case for posting someone else's work to your Instagram grid, here are some steps to make sure you're not plagiarising them in the process:
Ask first. Are they happy for you to share their post?
Make it clear it's their picture, not yours. Name the artist/creator in your caption.
Point people to where they can find and support the original artist. Either link to their Instagram profile, or somewhere else they can be found.
DO: Share posts to your Stories, and tag the person so they know you were lovely and promoted their work.
DON'T: Copy someone else's pictures to your Instagram grid unless you know they're happy for you to do that, and you tag them in the caption.
Facebook has, in a weird way, given a really strong incentive not to plagiarise others' posts. How? The algorithm.
The Facebook algorithm is a mysterious, ever-shifting entity, whose whims are the fixation of every social media manager in the land. In a nutshell, it means that if you have a public Page (as opposed to your own personal profile), then some types of post will get shown to more people than others.
Now, Facebook really wants you to spend lots of time on... you guessed it, Facebook. And this means that you actually get rewarded for sharing other Facebook posts on your page. That funny cartoon you found will get way more views from your followers if you share it from the artist's page than if you download the image, save it to your computer and then reshare it (which is also a lot more work, I'm sure you'll agree!). Plus, when you share the post directly to your page, it means people can see who that clever cartoonist was and go visit his page next. Everybody wins.
DO: Share other people's posts on your Facebook Page
DON'T: Upset the algorithm. I'm kidding.
In the end, it's pretty straight forward. The question to ask yourself when you share something online, if you didn't create it, is this: am I giving this person credit for their content?