Twagiarism – the new digital plague affecting the Internet

Twitter is one of the most public faces a person can have in the digital domain today. With the ability to make your thoughts public, it is perhaps the modern day vox populi, a megaphone for the general populace. At no stage in history has it been easier for people to broadcast their own personal message to a potential audience of millions around the world. That being said, it doesn’t necessarily mean that what they’re posting is happy.

But with Twitter has come a new problem: the problem of plagiarism. Plagiarism has long been a plague affecting the internet. But with Twitter, a site expressly created so people might be able to share ideas, pictures, music, videos, etc. for feedback and input, what constitutes plagiarism?

Plagiarism, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, is “the wrongful appropriation or purloining and publication as one’s own, of the ideas, or the expression of the ideas… of another.” But in the context of the public domain, i.e. Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr & other social sharing sites,  can it be considered plagiarism when you’re openly providing your ideas to the world for everyone to see?

A prime example of this occurred in August of this year when Miss India Vasuki Sunkavalli was caught reposting tweets by US columnist Sadanand Dhume concerning an ongoing corruption scandal in Indian politics. This led to the coining of a new phrase by both the victim and @thecoolhunter: “TWAGIARISM – The act of stealing someone else’s tweets to make you look more intelligent.” The Miss Universe 2011 contestant explained away any wrongdoing, saying that she was unfamiliar with “the technical know how of “retweeting””, but the damage was done. This is a fair point, considering how slow the take-up is of certain social media platforms due to unfamiliarity with their conventions and practices, but at the same time, can this really be used as an excuse? You are not permitted to drive before you learn the rules of the road – should the same apply to social networks? Should there be a summary of best practice for social networks such as Twitter for Facebook that you are required to read before you sign up, rather than just the lengthy terms of service?

A disclaimer: I myself have been a victim of Twagiarism, and to be honest, I felt a little violated when someone started copying my hashtags and way of posting. If it had been a continuation of my tweets, then it would have been fine, but in reality, this Twit had chosen to take my hashtags and use them as if they were their own idea. I was unimpressed.

Whatever the case, the question remains – what comes under the umbrella of plagiarism in the digital domain? Is Twagiarism a real phenomenon, or are people over-sensitive to their thoughts being reposted as if they were someone else’s?

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