Uncovering Plagiarism With Tact

January 19, 2013 — by Debbie Horovitch7



Uncovering Plagiarism With Tact

January 19, 2013 — by Debbie Horovitch7

Plagiarism!!! Even the mention of it in your career can make your skin crawl, because it suggests such a complete violation of trust. If you’re a blog editor, business owner hiring content writers or even suspect your social media content manager of perhaps plagiarizing content, there is a way to satisfy your suspicions without irreparably ruining your professional relationship.

For those of us who are building our careers on public content creation, professional writing, blogging, and embedded journalism we must create everything on the basis of authenticity and transparency.

Everything we publish must be unique and honest. While it IS our job to promote other’s people’s content (sources, properly attributed), we are also the least capable of hiding stolen content, since everything we publish is promoted to a public audience, with the hopes of viral spread.
If only one person will see your content, and you never publish it to a public database, it’s less likely plagiarized content would be discovered. But of course that doesn’t make it OK.

This week in Toronto a major plagiarism scandal came to light and the head of Toronto District School Board Chris Spence resigned (with a $270,000+ severance package), after admitting to plagiarizing authors in his own post secondary education.

While he could truly be ‘mistaken’ and simply not properly attributed source quotes, it doesn’t seem likely anyone would actually not know about how to avoid plagiarism accusations at any level of post-secondary education or life maturity < simply don’t do it.

Metro newspapers this week ran a test where they purchased school essays on craigslist and found that while they may have been original, they were actually really poorly written, in an article called Inside Plagiarism: Ghost Writers and

A quick google search for “plagiarism checking tools” reveals a number of tools free & paid available to put your fears to rest, immediately:

These tools accept words and images copy & paste or drag & drop and will show you in minutes any potential online source of suspected plagiarized content. The free tool I prefer is: > it only takes a few minutes of processing to reveal the % of unique content and provides links to items of duplication.

The issue of “stealing” images is much more pervasive on the web, but the new MTV show Catfish (based on the movie of the same name) reveals Google Image Search as a helpful tool if you suspect you or someone you work with of Te’oing you (in reference to this weeks’ Heisman Trophy winning football player Manti Te’o who possibly perpetuated a fake personal story of a girlfriend with cancer, who passed away, in order to win an award in a more compelling and “deserving” fashion).

I admit, most of the images on my Social Sparkle & Shine blog are not my own, but I always try to give proper credit – like the image at the top of this post, the artist signature and web URL are on the image – I’m in no way trying to claim rights or credit for creating the image.

Earlier this year a scandal broke with a Globe & Mail journalist (Margaret Wente) who claimed to have forgotten to credit another article for a single sentence, but she was quickly ushered out amidst angry readers who grudgingly accept political skew in their news but still demand unique, intelligent, well-researched and honest business news from their business newspaper of choice.

Historically, plagiarism has been a problem, but even more often when scandal breaks, it’s for entirely made-up “facts” a-la Shattered Glass – Stephen Glass a journalist for publications ranging from Rolling Stone to The New Republic who created people, stories, and interviews entirely from his imagination and published them all as real.

For more, check out Authenticity and Transparency in Social Media.

By the way, after you’ve left a comment here, we can continue the discussion on my social media professional blog, Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

Whitepapers and Playbooks referenced in this blog post are available free to download and share in my Social Media Concierge Public Resource Library on Google Docs.

You can also request to participate as an expert or receive a free assessment of your social media activities on my new social media business show, #SparkleSOS on Google+ Hangouts on Air by emailing and don’t forget to add me to your G+ circles!

Debbie Horovitch

Founder & Social Media Concierge at Social Sparkle & Shine
Debbie Horovitch is a Social Media Concierge, founder of Social Sparkle & Shine, a social media marketing agency that specializes in providing social media support services to clients marketing special events: charity fundraising gala events, music festivals and sporting events, business/brand launches and special holiday promotions. With a contact list that includes brand managers, media and journalists from 15 years as an advertising media buyer at Toronto ad agencies, Debbie can maximize your business’ social media community management and Facebook CPC campaigns by integrating special contacts and adding to the achievements of your existing publicity, search and paid advertising agreements.

Latest posts by Debbie Horovitch (see all)

  • Thank you Debbie! This is some great information and good tools. Plagiarism is nothing short of theft. Just as important to check for it as it is to make sure you never do it.

  • TeachaKidd

    Very good article. Thank you. About your graphic at the top. It’s not enough to just cite the source. In the case of your graphic, do you have permission? Graphics such as those are often sold for posting or print. Additionally, the illustrators or photographers usually appreciate an active link back to their site.
    This is really separate from plagiarism because you are definitely not passing the graphic off as your own, but there is still room for good cyber-citizenship here. 🙂

    • TeachaKidd

      @TeachaKidd As it happens, there is a pricing structure on Gary Varvel’s site with pricing listed here:

      • Sparkle_Agency

        @TeachaKidd Thank you for your reply and links. What is required is a grey line when it comes to sharing on social sites and promoting for them…
        I clicked through both of the links you provided and even did a little searching, but wasn’t taken to or even able to find a pricing/purchase or distribution rights page or offer. I think the artist is making it difficult to buy, easy to share (since sharing buttons are all over his page), which whether or not it’s what he wants – it is the best opportunity for increased awareness.
        Adding a link is something that can be done (and is rarely recognized / appreciated), but isn’t always necessary. In this case the artist has protected their rights by adding both their signature and URL – and I haven’t removed them – so selecting their image to share is better than not selecting their image/sharing at all.
        I define good cyber-citizenship as including the works of other people when they provide relevancy & value, and following the route of least resistance – in this case sharing the image as is. Anyone who wants to see more can type it in the URL provided.

        • TeachaKidd

          @Sparkle_Agency  @TeachaKidd Thank you for clarifying. 🙂

  • SylvLima

    Debbie, great and informative article on plagiarism on the web.  Imo, this type of theft will inevitably continue to grow as this generation of kids are encouraged and oftentimes required to use the web to research projects.  While they are taught to cite correctly in school, the demand to turn in projects with less time for research, processing and interpretation (ironically b/c of ease of accessibility to data), unfortunately I see this becoming more of an issue.
    However, I would like to also thank you for listing some tools available to help deter this quick lure.  It would be interesting to know if elementary and middle schools use these tools but more importantly inform their students of the fact that they exist, thereby stressing the importance and value of authentic work. 
    Thank you again =)

    • Sparkle_Agency

      @SylvLima I agree Sylv – we will continue to see an increase in this type of activity. Plagiarism has been an issue (especially in post-secondary education) for many, many decades and in recent years, as more and more past content is being digitized we will see more established professionals being de-throned for stealing content in their past.
      I also think that when you’re in your late teens/early 20’s its hard to really appreciate the value of hard work over many years and how it makes original thought and interpretation more available. And in those situations, they don’t have years, they have deadlines!
     is a fee-for-service platform that lets instructors manage and scan assignments for plagiarism, so they are doing some marketing of their own. But I also feel its important that more people know about the less-slick looking free platforms and they let the students know!
      Even more with social media community managers and paid bloggers > I wish I knew about a resource of legal precedents for blogging and content development/sharing. There is a lot of discussion and misperception about what is legally required or risky and what is not. 
      But at least the tools can be used by hiring managers / HR professionals to vett the writing/blogging samples of potential spokesperson/sponsored bloggers & social media employees.