Crediting the Writer – It’s Just Common Courtesy

Posted on 02 April 2010

Ever since I joined twitter just over a year ago, I’ve noticed a very strange thing: many people tweet to recommend an article or blog posting by someone else, but do not credit the writer of that article or blog posting in their tweet.

I find that odd, unhelpful, unethical and just plain rude. When someone tweets the title of an article, followed by a link, I believe that gives the distinct impression that they’re saying THEY wrote the article themselves (because that’s exactly the way people tweet when they DO want to direct people to an article they wrote themselves). If someone wants to recommend an article written by someone else, why don’t they name the author in their tweet (using the @ symbol to link to that person’s twitter profile page, if the person is on twitter)?

As a writer, I care about the issue of copyright, and about writers getting due credit for their work. But it’s not just about common courtesy and giving credit where it’s due – I’d be more likely to click on a link to an article if I recognise the author’s name (especially if it’s someone famous or someone I respect).

How not to do it

Here’s an example: author Seth Godin (@ThisIsSethsBlog) tweets frequently in order to direct people to his latest blog posting. Two women that I follow, who also follow Seth, instantly and automatically copy every tweet by Seth, including his shortened URLs, but give absolutely no indication that the original blog posting is by Seth. They don’t even have the courtesy to use the ReTweet button to show that Seth was the originator of the tweet. So it LOOKS like each woman is saying: “Here’s an interesting article that I wrote.”

And here’s another example: I saw a tweet from a woman (let’s call her A) who recommended an article titled “The Bobby McFerrin Plan for Creating a Remarkable Business”. I of course immediately clicked on the link to read the article, and discovered that A was not the author – it was a guest post by Pamela Wilson (@pamelaiwilson) on the blog of Brian Clark (@copyblogger).

So I sent a private direct message to A, saying: “It seems to me that it would have been courteous to credit the source of the article about the Bobby McFerrin concert.”

She replied: “Thanks so much for your input. Brian and I are good friends. If you look at his stream, he tweets articles similarly. We’ve discussed it. Thanks.”

I replied: “Yes, I see lots of ppl do that, and as a writer I don’t think it’s cool not to credit the original source. I know many ppl who agree.”

And A replied to me: “That’s great for you. Thanks for your feedback.”

Then I unfollowed her, and posted this public tweet: “I say it’s polite to credit the writer of an article/blogpost you recommend; some say there’s no need. What say you?”

Three people replied:
@JeremyDBrown “I say Credit them”
@moncarv “…it’s amazing some still think it would be some sort of favor. People should be quoted properly in any media”
@SpiritusShelagh “I agree!” [I clarified that with her, and she said she meant yes, she agreed with me.]

What do you think?

And if you repost someone else’s tweet

Similarly, a twitterer named Mike Johansson (@mikefixs) feels strongly about the issue of people reposting other people’s tweets without crediting the source, and has written a great blog posting titled “Twitter’s ‘Tweet Lifters’ Take Credit Where Credit Isn’t Due”.

Mike wrote: “So taking a tweet and reposting it without crediting the source is no big deal, right? It’s only Twitter. There’s so much stuff flying around who will notice, right? Wrong! People do notice and you will be caught. Your ‘tweet lifting’ (a term my friend @markfrisk coined) will be noted. You may be called on it publicly (the best case scenario as it may make you stop the lifting or whatever you want to call it). Or you may simply suffer a silent, but deadly decline in your reputation.”

I agree with Mike 100 per cent. Ironically, I first read about Mike’s blog posting in a tweet by someone who recommended the blog posting but did not credit Mike as the writer. Unbelievable!

9 responses to Crediting the Writer – It’s Just Common Courtesy

  • Michael says:

    “When someone tweets the title of an article, followed by a link, I believe that gives the distinct impression that they’re saying THEY wrote the article themselves” – That’s a wrong believe and surely not how most Twitter users see it. The very limited space is much better used by including a comment. The author is visible on the article.

    • kay says:

      Ah well, Michael, it’s just my opinion, not a wrong belief. And we don’t really know how “most Twitter users” see it – I know some who agree with me, and I’m sure there are some who agree with you. And that’s fine. So let’s agree amicably to disagree.

  • Interesting point of view and I agree… mostly. I tweet about 10 or so articles a day and if I’m following the author, RT’ing or otherwise know the Twitter handle of the author, I have no problem including it. However, sometimes it’s not easily known on the article, take Fast Company for instance. Do I tweet @fastcompany or search for the author’s username? Sometimes, it’s not worth the effort for a quick tweet.

    But the main reason I like to include it, is that it sends them an @reply letting them know I shared their stuff.

    Great read, thanks for this!

    • kay says:

      Thanks for your comment, Bradley. I agree, sometimes it’s difficult to find the author’s name. But even for a quick tweet, I do like to take the time to do a search to find the person’s twitter handle.

  • Huw Sayer says:

    I agree that, if you are re-tweeting, you should include the @ name of your source (the person who originally tweeted). But I don’t see the need to credit the name of the creator of the work you are linking to (note: there are not just writers on the web) if you are tweeting an original link.

    I don’t always tweet the creator’s name – and I am pretty certain that most people who follow me don’t think that I am trying to claim credit for the work I’m linking to or that I don’t value the creator. Why would I tweet a link to something I did not value?

    For instance, have just posted this tweet:
    Crediting the Writer – It’s Just Common Courtesy <An interesting blog on the etiquette of tweeting and re-tweeting links.

    It’s 140 characters – it doesn’t credit the writer – but it shows I have read your blog and think it is worth reading. Which would you prefer – a tweet with a recommendation or no tweet? (If I blogged, I’d want the traffic not the name check.)

    Since your name is prominently displayed on your blog (as is the case with most attributed work on the web) you have nothing to fear – you still get the recognition you deserve . Since you are not particularly famous, including your name in the tweet would have added nothing to the tweet (it is not a draw in its self) but would have reduced my room for comment (which is one reason why I tweet).

    (As you say: “I of course immediately clicked on the link to read the article, and discovered that A was not the author.” But you still read the post – ‘A’ did you and the author a favour – and there was no “copyright infringement” – so no problem.)

    There is far too much uptight talk of etiquette on Twitter – Twitter is a tool – we are all free to use it as we choose – if you don’t like the way I use it, you don’t have to follow me.

    Best wishes

    • kay says:

      Thanks Huw – it seems to me that the way you tweeted about my blog post, adding your comment about “An interesting blog…”, made it clear that you were recommending someone else’s article, not suggesting that you wrote it yourself. (And by the way, thanks for tweeting about my article.) And you’re quite right, if I don’t like the way someone uses twitter, I don’t have to follow them.

  • Emma Ewers says:

    Hi Kay, an interesting post and a point I think about myself when retweeting!

    I always credit the writer, afterall what benefit is it to me to promote someone elses blog that I haven’t written?

    Another niggle that I have are so called “experts” who have RSS Feeds on auto via their Twitter account from well known blog sites to make it seem as if they are in the know, when actually they probably haven’t even read the blog posts they have auto tweeted, all for the sake of more followers and looking like they are an expert to the less knowledgeable.

    Just my tuppence 🙂


    • kay says:

      Good point about the “experts”, Emma. I find that when a twitter account is TOO automated, it loses the personal touch that I like, and it kinds of defeats the purpose of “social” in “social media”.

  • Maybe I should say something a little more fulsome than “I agree” which was all that was possible in a Retweet of 140 characters – thanks for the opportunity, Kay!

    Because I really do agree – and for all the reasons you say. I don’t know whether it is ignorance or accident – I recall retweeting something from you once, and in trying to reduce the character count took off the “RT” which made it appear I was replying to you, not quoting you. That wa an accident, from which I learnt.

    And you are right about its being found out. Tweets stay around for much longer than most people realise, and copyright infringement on Twitter is still copyright infringement, with all the implications of that.

    Maybe it will take a trial case by a Big Brand whose tag line is misused to really make people aware.

    @spiritusshelagh on Twitter

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