Plagiarism, children and the pressures of social media

According to The Oxford Dictionary, plagiarism is:
The practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.

If we look back, many of us have been plagiarists, or more simplistically put, copycats, at some time in our lives, probably during childhood. Those who have judged children’s drawing / painting competitions will agree that they inevitably encounter similar artworks, though often of varying standards. Teachers will agree that sometimes they think they are reading the same student’s assignment again, only to see that it is from someone else.

By the time children are old enough to understand right and wrong, it is expected that they will realise that stealing is wrong, and recognise that plagiarism is a form of stealing. However, this is often not the case.

During the last school vacation, one of my son’s holiday assignments was to answer a questionnaire that required a visit to the Nehru Planetarium.  His classmates who didn’t do the visit simply copied the answers. That they were told to attach the entry ticket to prove they had made the visit is another story!

As the children move from primary school to middle/ high school, class assignments become more challenging, classmates become more competitive, extra-curricular achievements become more noteworthy. The need to perform to impress the teachers and friends sometimes weighs heavily on them.

Some children are outright lazy. Some children may not have the aptitude or adequate capability. Some may not have the infrastructure facilities or financial backing. Taking or copying from someone else’s hard work/ talent makes it easy. And the internet makes it even easier. You don’t need to take it from your neighbour and get caught. You can pick things from someone far away in the world and no one would ever know!

Added to this are the pressures of social media. Everyone wants to be noticed online. Your tweets, if retweeted, get you more followers. Your facebook status updates, if liked/ shared, get you more friends/ followers, the pluses on your google posts get you more visibility.

I once saw a post on facebook that had seemingly gone unnoticed, but with one comment from the original poster himself, “As no one has liked my post, I am liking it myself”. And this was a senior citizen! Getting no facebook likes could be pretty depressing. The effect on teenagers who are being watched 24/7 by their friends could be devastating! This is where plagiarism squeezes in. An interesting video could give you an image makeover.  A nice quote could make you look smart. A good photograph could make you famous. So what if your parents haven’t got you an expensive camera with a telephoto lens. Photos are available in plenty, right on the internet! No need to even go out to shoot!

There have been several instances on facebook groups such as Indian Birds, where pictures have been “stolen” randomly, and posted with details that make them seem original. Same with blog posts and articles. While some of these get our attention, many misdemeanours may go unnoticed. But you can’t be too sure. With search applications like google, it is not difficult for people looking for copycats to find you. Plagiarism sleuths are always watching!

While surfing the internet, I came across a website, that documents serious photograph plagiarism, usually for business. The site admin searches out photos on websites, which have been plagiarised from various people online. The homepage describes the site so: This wall of shame is dedicated to photographers that feel that it’s okay to steal others work and post it as their own. Oh I’m sorry, it’s okay to let their “web designer” do it.

Many people are unaware that if the original owner of such works wants to punish you, the consequences could be serious, including huge fines and time in jail. Children too could be taken to task and this would have serious repercussions on their future. Parents would do well by talking to their children, and helping them to realise that they can be adequate without having to be on social media. Once the withdrawal symptoms subside, the children will be pleasantly relieved to be free from 24/7 social media surveillance!

To do your bit to protect your child on social media, check out these tips. Stay safe.


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