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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due. The Recent WTFckery Case of Blogger Plagiarism and the Forgiveness Factor

What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is “the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own.” 

According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, to "plagiarize" means
  • to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own
  • to use (another's production) without crediting the source
  • to commit literary theft
  • to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.
In other words, plagiarism is an act of fraud. It involves both stealing someone else's work and lying about it afterward. (from plagiarism.org)

See how easy it is for me to give credit to Plagarism.org as I did when describing plagiarism? Now if I hadn’t given a footnote and just copied and pasted the definition, I would be committing an act of plagiarism because I took someone else’s words and made them my own. This week in the blogging community, especially in the book blogging community, a harsh lesson was learned because of someone’s act of stealing, aka plagiarism. From this act there has been collateral damage from online fighting, to some cases of people receiving threatening emails, including the victims who were plagiarized. It’s been an ultimate WTFckery of a week. But, this one disturbing act by person who has been respected and admired for years has also brought many in the book blogging community together. Through many discussions on blogs who have reported the plagiarism, on Twitter in an open forum and in private emails, we’re all much wiser and now have a better understanding why a blogger stealing words or an original idea from another blogger can destroy the progress and success bloggers as a whole have made. But from this “travesty” as some may find it to be, I believe the blogging community will come out stronger. In this case I’m trying to be an optimist.

It took me a few days to digest what has happened and for me to write this post because of everything that has occurred and to whom and they why’s. I’m still trying to make sense of it all. For those who aren’t aware of what happened earlier this week, I’ll be more than happy to explain, starting with an email I received early Monday morning. This email was because of a new comment was left on a blog post from over two years on a young adult blog. An anonymous person left this new comment there, and what I read made me do a double take:

"Funny you mention how The Story Siren preached against plagiarism..."

http://www.gritandglamour.com/2012/01/31/bitch-stole-my-content-plagiarism/

I clicked on the link and was taken to a fashion blog called Grit & Glamour. The post there was dated January 31, 2012 (almost 4 months ago) titled, “B*tch Stole my content! Plagiarism: How to Deal with a Thief. 

In this post G&G explains through some intense detective work on her part, how she discovered a book blogger lifted a large amount of her content, including a few other fashion minded blogs, reworked them and made them into “original” posts on her blog. Through screen shots and documented emails from the one who plagiarized, it was more than obvious that one of the worst crimes in the blogging world had occurred. But G&G never mentions the book blogger by name. But she did show this:

 
Even with the blackened out face and the “all content c.” blackened out, I knew who the book blogger was. I then experienced more than a few emotions from shock to dismay to WTF has happened? It’s not the first time a book blogger has plagiarized, and those bloggers who committed the crime were ones who haven’t made a big impact on the blogging community. This book blogger, who I know as Kristi The Story Siren, based on public opinion, is one of THE top blogs in the book blogger community, specifically the young adult blogging community.

After re-reading Grit & Glamour’s post a few more times, I came to a decision to do something that in less than two hour’s time would have a ripple effect. At first I had planned on emailing some close blogging friends for advice because even with all the evidence provided, I had some doubts. Is this truly Kristi the Story Siren, Grit & Glamour is accusing? Am I reading this wrong? I didn’t want to believe it because The Story Siren isn’t some nameless, one of the phantom blogs out there for me. Because Kristi and I had interactions in the past and even met face to face, my reaction isn’t the same as if another blogger I never interacted with had done this.

Those who know me are well aware of my stance on plagiarism and bloggers who do it. It’s behavior I don’t condone in anyway shape or form because as a blogger, I spend hours creating my own content. The only reward I expect is my enjoyment in doing so. I would assume most bloggers feels the same. If one of those nameless bloggers had done what the Story Siren did, I would have flipped out and made everyone well aware of my reaction to the fact.

I went on twitter at 10am Monday morning and wrote this tweet: “A blogger I had the utmost respect for has been accused of plagiarism and the facts are glaring. Very upsetting to see this.”

Within a minute, I received at least 10 direct messages asking me who I was talking about. Even when I sent a direct message back with the link to Grit & Glamour, I never mentioned Story Siren or Kristi by name because what if I was wrong? I said, “please tell me they’re not accusing who I think they’re accusing”.
And it went viral on Twitter moments after that and Dear Author and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books posted about this on their sites a few hours later.

I really can’t say if I’m the one responsible for bringing The Story Siren’s plagiarism to light. Eventually it would have come out. Someone would have seen that comment on that YA blog or would have gone on Grit & Glamour and read the post. Some are shocked that it took 4 months for the book blogging community to find out. Really? There are 152 million blogs on the internet (from royal pingdom). I for one do not visit fashion blogs. So until I read about G&G’s post from a blogger I follow or someone on Twitter or elsewhere, I wouldn’t have known at all.

Here’s what I do know: Plagiarism in any form is wrong whether you copy word for word from a review and call it your own or you lift something such as an original idea from another and claim it as yours. Sometimes we don’t realize we’ve taken ideas from other blogs and form it and change it in a way where we think it’s our original idea. When in doubt, credit, credit, give credit. Ideas can be recycled, and they’re usually in the books, music and movies. But when someone takes another person’s idea and claims it as their own without any credit to the original source, that’s where it gets murky.

When someone plagiarizes, it’s an intentional and calculated move. The idea that it’s a mistake on the plagiarist’s part is a poor excuse, especially if you’re scoping out certain blogs and spending an extending period time on these blogs for research. The big issue here is not Kristi taking G&G’s content and using it to improve her blog, but not giving credit to G&G and those other fashion blogs.

Full disclosure on my part: Monday afternoon I reached out to Kristi privately to tell her she should be aware what has happened, and I believe there are two sides to every story, although in this case, it was obvious what she had done based on the facts shown. Later than night Kristi and I shared a conversation. She said she would understand if I lost all respect for her. I told her I’m more disappointed than anything and WTF was she thinking? She wasn’t thinking, it was a mistake on her part and she was incredibly remorseful and upset.

I do believe Kristi is remorseful and sorry for what she has done. The next day she wrote a post apologizing to G&G and the blogging community over her horrible deed. I do believe it’s from the heart. Some don’t. They feel Kristi should have re-worded her apology better, which she has re-worded again, and from that even more people exploded in anger. There’s been so much discussion and opinion about the correct way Kristi should handle the aftermath from coming out and saying, “yes, I am a plagiarist” to accepting her apology and moving on.

Moving on. Letting sleeping dogs lie is not going to fly in this case. To be honest it’s hard for me to remain unbiased because I know Kristi on a personal level. But what I do know is that stealing another blogger’s content and not crediting it and calling your own is wrong. I also know that a person only apologizes when they get caught. It’s absolution for their soul to say, yes I screwed up, please forgive me. Kristi got caught and has apologized. If what she did was never found out, I can promise you she would have never admitted what she had done and apologized for it. 

There’s anger. The victims of Kristi’s plagiarism are angry, and rightly so. They are the VICTIMS, and anyone who comes at them or sends them threatening emails telling them to remain quiet and how horrible they are for letting the world know what Kristi has done should be ashamed of themselves. Put yourself in G&G’s shoes. How would you have reacted? G&G could have kept it quiet but decided not to. You seriously think she had an ulterior motive in bringing down Kristi from her blogger perch and put a black stain on book bloggers as a whole? She wanted to share the crime committed against her and the cause and effect. In my case I would have done the same. 

So, where does that leave us now? Because a prominent blogger has done this crime, should Kristi The Story Siren give up her blog and disappear? That’s a question that has no definite answer. There’s no rules to blogging, as in, this is what you do when XYZ happens. Blogging, especially book blogging is in a class all its own. There are many mixed emotions, especially now about blogs in general and the power they have. In the book blogger world, some blogs have risen to the top. The top of what, I ask? There’s a hierarchy in book blogging and some blogs are being courted by publishers, where they receive acknowledgement, raves and free items, mainly in the form of books. Authors are bending over backward to be on these blogs because being spotlighted on THE blog could help an author’s sales and make them money and their publisher’s money. And if a book blog like The Story Siren can help publishers and authors make money, they’re going to treat Kristi like gold. Because of this, in part from publishers and authors, there’s now a competition in the book blogger community that leads to more than a few sour grapes when they don’t receive the accolades or are given the same regards as these other prominent blogs.

Should Kristi Story Siren be punished for her actions? If so, what type of punishment? She did what she did, acknowledged what she did was wrong and has apologized. But because she’s a “premiere” blog, she receives rewards from publishers and authors because she has risen to the top of some blogging pedestal. What if Kristi was a lesser known blog?  Would the community’s reaction be the same? Not at all. When a mighty person does something wrong, the public wants that person to fall because they are looked up to, an icon of sorts who has reaped the rewards through what is now determined as sneaky and not so very moralistic actions on their part.

Forgiveness. How much are you willing to forgive Kristi for? Sir Francis Bean once said, we read that we ought to forgive our enemies; but we do not read that we ought to forgive our friends. For many, Kristi is a friend, because in the book blogging community, for the most part we all treat each other as friends. Blogging has one common goal, to share ideas and create relationships, not to steal from others and point out their misgivings. 

Forgiveness a subjective emotion, much like one reacts to a book. Some will love what they read, others will hate it. In this recent sad case of plagiarism, it’s up that person to decide how much they are willing to forgive. We as a culture are very forgiving, but were also equally willing to vilify those who have done them and others wrong.

I don’t have any closing words of wisdom to give. These are my thoughts, and writing this post was very emotional for me, if you can believe that. Some will disagree with me and think I’m being silly for having such a strong reaction because it’s just a blog and so what? There are more important things to worry about than a blogger lifting ideas from another blogger and claiming them as their own. Right? For some yes, but for others no.

I’m just a blogger trying to make sense of these recent events. There you have it. 

Many other bloggers have written their opinion pieces about the damaging effects of plagiarism and the events surrounding Grit & Glamour and The Story Siren. Here's their take if you would like another opinion:
Katiebabs

12 comments:

Janicu said...

I think the mix of emotions and wondering where to go from here is how I feel too.

Blodeuedd said...

Honestly I am not even feeling anger, I am just so very disappointed

Anonymous said...

While I don't follow Kristi's blog, I do understand why so many people are questioning everything she's done now. How do you know the opinions she posted are even her own? Are the reviews written by her or did she take a review and thesaurus and reword everything to make it 'original'?

Anonymous said...

Her latest "apology" was lifted, almost word for word, from her original post on plagiarism. This makes it difficult for many to view it as "heartfelt," given it was written at least two years ago.

She also wrote in that blog post, There is no excuse... “I didn’t know.... I didn’t mean to... I did it subconsciously.” No, you didn’t. You did know and you did mean to. Again, her apologies would have seemed a lot more heartfelt had she not posted (a) several of them; and (b) filled them all with excuses.

Alexia561 said...

This is a hard issue, and you're right that our reactions are different because of who Kristi is, as a lesser known blogger would have been shamed into shutting down by now. Everyone needs to make up their own mind on whether or not to forgive Kristi, and it's unfortunate that some of the reactions are out of control. Thank you for sharing your side of the story!

AnimeJune said...

Excellent post.

What people (particularly her followers) need to understand is that acknowledgement, apology and forgiveness are all good - but it doesn't mean the problem goes away, and it doesn't mean we don't all need to come together and ACKNOWLEDGE that it's a problem.

Saying she's sorry and that's the end of it demeans the importance of plagiarism and makes it look like no big deal.

Audrey A said...

I do believe she's really sorry. Sorry she got caught. Totally agree with AnimeJune too. It's a huge deal in my opinion and the fact that she did it at all says a lot about her character. Even just once would be too many times. But from what I've read it was a regular thing for her.

Sisters Unedited said...

I am glad that you and other bloggers are shedding light on this because it needs to stop. I can not believe that people are placing the blame on the victims.

Marg said...

The where to from here angle is the one that I am struggling with a little, and the blaming of the victims etc even more so.

It really is Kristi's decision as to how she continues from here on, but I have to say that at this stage it appears as though everything is just continuing as normal and that makes me feel just a tad uncomfortable.

KB/KT Grant said...

Janicu: Very mixed emotions about the entire thing and some of the reactions of others toward the victims is disgusting.

Blodeuedd: You and me both.

Anon: We may never know now.

Anon: And the fact that she deleted her original post on why plagiarism is wrong is also very telling. But it's pretty obvious why she deleted that post.

Alexia: :) The reactions have become this bigger cluster WTFckery that's not going to die down anytime soon.

Amnime: Hugh Jackman on a unicorn! All of this could have been averted on Kristi's part if she just credited her content the original source.

Audrey: The proof is glaring.

Sisters Unedited: There's so many knee jerk reactions and those who are big supporters of TSS are going to come to her defense.

Marg: I don't think it's going to be business as usual in this case. More bloggers are posting about these events everyday.

Anonymous said...

gritandglanour isnt the only person she lifted content from. She stole content from 3 different websites, 6 articles total. It looks like beautifully invisible is the one who actually discovered it and then went to grit abut it.

http://www.beautifully-invisible.com/2012/01/i-think-weve-been-plagiarized-sort-of-the-story-of-the-content-thief.html

I dont understand how anyone can accept her stance that this was just a mistake given that information. If it happened once it could be a mistake, but six times?

Kate@Midnight Book Girl said...

I honestly think that part of the reason this event has gotten so blown up is that Kristi didn't really ever say she flat out plagiarized. She kind of dances around the subject in both her apologies, which led to a lot of confusion. The fact that some of her defenders screamed "bully" at anyone that commented that Kristi plagiarized, and some went so far as to vilify the victims and sent them hate mail, is what's truly disturbing. I wish Kristi had posted that wasn't acceptable behavior, but instead both her clarifications are now buried under a pile of book giveaways. In the end, this doesn't affect me too much, I wasn't a follower and I don't think I've participated in IMM more than once or twice ever. It did open my eyes to certain nastier aspects of our community, but like you I choose to believe that when this blows over our community will be a better, smarter and far more careful group. I am proud of you for not sitting on this information, despite having a blogging relationship with Kristi. Like Neville, it takes more courage to stand up to our friends. :)