Digital Manners: A Facebook Friend Shares My Links Without Giving Me Credit (Transcript)

Navigating the intersection of etiquette and technology.
April 24 2012 11:00 AM

Stolen Status Update (Transcript)

What to do if a friend filches your links, posts them on Facebook, and calls them her own.

Emily Yoffe: Look at this fascinating portfolio I found of an unknown Vietnamese folk artist. Isn’t it so original?

Farhad Manjoo: I’m Slate’s technology columnist, Farhad Manjoo.

Emily: I’m Emily Yoffe, Slate’s Dear Prudence advice columnist. And this is Manners for the Digital Age.

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This week’s question comes from a Facebooker who is irked that her friend takes credit for the great links she takes pains to find and share on the site. She writes, “Dear Farhad and Emily, one of my best friends has been reposting links I put on Facebook without giving me credit. When sharing a link that someone else has posted, Facebook gives you the option to say you shared it via another party. At first, I thought we were just posting the same articles or photos, because we frequent the same sites, but I’ve noticed that she’s reposting my links sometimes within minutes of me putting them up.

“I’ve considered that she might be protecting my privacy. We don’t share all the same friends and my profile is not public, so perhaps she’s just being considerate. But the more I think about it, the more I believe she is trying to make it look like she has discovered all of these interesting things to share. Our Facebook pages have become publicized and edited versions of our personalities, but what if someone is hijacking your cover story? Signed, Stolen Status Update.”

So, Farhad, what do you think?

Farhad: As a journalist, I like the idea of citing my sources, so I think that it’s wrong for this woman to be posting other people’s stories without crediting them. But does it matter where you came across an interesting link? I think, ultimately, it’s not such a big deal. We’re all on the Web all the time, and sometimes I might open a link and read it 20 minutes later and not remember who sent it to me, but I’ll post it anyway sometimes, even if I forget. I don’t think it’s a huge deal to not credit your source in that instance.

Emily: I agree it’s not a huge deal, but this is happening instantaneously, and I think there may be an extremely innocent explanation. The letter writer mentions Facebook gives you the option to say you are sharing this via another party, and her friend may not know about that. It may just be a matter of the letter writer saying something to her. She says this woman is one of her best friends. It’s not the old college acquaintances who has reappeared. It’s one of her best friends.

So I think this could be a very direct, simple conversation—“Hey, Jennifer, I love that you love my links. Facebook gives you a way to repost it via me, because what I like is hearing people’s responses to things I found and things other people found and I love knowing the chain of who’s in on the conversation. So if you could click that when you repost my stuff, I’d love it. I’m glad you like it, but I’d like to hear the conversation that ensues, because we don’t have all the same friends.”

Farhad: I think I disagree with that. The other thing this woman said is that her own profile is not public. I think one of the reasons you might want to be credited for finding an interesting link is so people on Facebook or Twitter notice you as a source of interesting stuff and follow you as a result.

But this woman is not looking for publicity. She’s not trying to be a public profile. So I don’t see why she wants credit. The conversation you mentioned, going up to your friend—even your best friend—and saying, “Hey, you’ve been posting a lot of stuff on Facebook and you haven’t been giving me credit,” I think that any way you frame that conversation is going to be really awkward and make you sound like you want to be in the limelight all the time.

Emily: I thought I framed it beautifully so it wouldn’t sound like that.

Farhad: You sounded like you just want all the attention, Emily.

Emily: You get back to a point that on Slate, when we send around interesting links, we almost always say, “Via so-and-so,” because that might send you there and, “Oh, this may be a place with interesting other links.” It just seems like the decent thing to do.

If she does bring it up that way—“Gee, would you mind just giving me the ‘sent via’ credit” —and her friend says, “Well, I wasn’t doing it because your profile is so private, I didn’t want other people to know,” then that’s legitimate. Then the letter writer could say “Oh, good point. Don’t,” or “No, it’s OK. When you’re forwarding stuff, that’s fine with me. People we know in common will see; people we don’t, so be it.”

Farhad: She could look at her friend’s profile and see whether her friend cites other sources. Maybe if she notices a public source like the New York Times Twitter account posting something, if she cites that or if it seems like she’s constantly not mentioning where she found an interesting link.

Emily: That’s a good point. And if they have this conversation and it turns out the friend who’s reposting says, “You don’t own this stuff; you didn’t create it; I don’t have to give you credit,” then the letter writer has to decide “I’m being silly” or “I’m a little creeped out that every time I post something, she reposts it to another group of people as if this is something she found.”

As we all know, the profession of the future is curating. We’re all just curating everything. I do think what’s emerged in the etiquette of this is cite your source. Give the hat tip. Say, “Via so-and-so.”

Farhad: I am pro hat-tipping. I’m pro citing my source. I think if you look at my Twitter feed, I post a lot of stuff and I try to post most of the sources. But I do wonder if this is either a generational concern or just a journalist concern. I doubt that many people in their teens—and even in their 20s—really think it’s that important. If they came across a great YouTube video from a friend of theirs, when they repost that video, I don’t think they think that it’s such a big deal to say where they got it.

You’re swimming in all this media and it might not be important that your friend got to it first, because you would’ve gotten to it anyway. Something that is not obscure, which is a lot of the stuff that we’re passing around, citing a source might just seem kind of silly.

Emily: If you’re posting the latest Will Ferrell funny thing, that’s fine. But the letter writer seems to say it’s almost everything and it’s instantaneous, and not all of it is something everyone on Facebook is going to see within the next couple of days. It is unusual stuff. I think it’s worth a delicately worded conversation.

Farhad: My bottom line is this is not a big enough deal to have a conversation about it with your friend. It may be better if she’s citing you as a source, but if she’s not, don’t risk a friendship over trying to get her to change her ways on Facebook.

Emily: Send us your questions about shifting etiquette in the online age. Our address is digitalmanners@slate.com

Farhad: You can also join our Facebook page where we carry on the conversation throughout the week. Go to www.Facebook.com/digitalmanners.

Emily: And we’ll talk to you next time on Manners for the Digital Age.

Farhad Manjoo is a technology columnist for the New York Times and the author of True Enough.

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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