Social media ethics: I am a blogger. In other words, a piece of meat.

social media ethics

I would like for you to imagine this situation. A little case study in social media ethics …

Your boss asks you to create a new marketing plan for your company. You go to a competitor’s site and you like what they have done so you copy their original content (and even the illustrations) and claim that this is now your own marketing material.

If I did something like this in the “real business world” I would probably get fired, yet on the social web, this is a common and accepted practice. If you are a blogger, expect to be copied, cheated, and ransacked. Expect to be treated like a piece of meat.

For example,

  • An advertising firm in Chicago recently used one of my blog posts in their monthly marketing newsletter to customers, without permission, without attribution … as their own original material.
  • At least three companies have digitally scanned my books and are selling them on websites for their own profit.
  • Last year, an author used an original case study from {grow} in his new book, without attribution or permission. Another very famous business author lifted whole sections from my book Return On Influence for his own book, again without any permission, attribution or credit. A third book used my original ideas about “citizen influencers” and social scoring without credit.
  • The talented Pam Moore recently created this Facebook post: “Just when you think you have seen it all when it comes to plagiarism & copyright violation … I just found a guy who has been purposely copying my blog posts into video. He reads the entire blog post and uses it as content for his own (promotional) video. He reads and records every word and claims it as his own! One of the videos has 10,000 views!”

The Verizon tipping point

These examples have involved small-time players brashly using blogger’s content for their own commercial gain. But even Fortune 500 companies are doing it.

I pay writers like Kerry Gorgone to create original material for {grow} and we were shocked to find that one of her posts was swiped — in its entirety without naming the author or the original blog — and posted on Verizon’s company portal as if it was their own post. One of the world’s largest companies was boldly taking copyrighted content from an individual blogger and using it on their own promotional site. It was pure luck that we even found it.

I tried to get a response from Verizon, curious as to how and why they did this. But it took THREE months to even be acknowledged. I wrote customer service twice, called them twice, sent messages through Twitter and Facebook twice, wrote their corporate VP of communications twice, and finally called him. A member of his staff said she would get back to me in 24 hours. I never heard another word from her.

For three months I was stonewalled. Nobody in any department, at any level, would respond to me.

About a month ago, I had somebody from Verizon customer service in one of my classes. I mentioned the issue to her and within a few days somebody called me. She was kind and apologetic but after all the time I had put into getting a response, I wanted more than an apology. I wanted Verizon to refund me for the money I had paid Kerry for the content they swiped. She said she would have to get approval for that.

Finally the person who manages the website called me. The conversation went like this:

Verizon: “I have been informed about all the issues you have had trying to get through to us and we are truly sorry this happened. We hired a company to scrape content from the web and publish it on our site. We have told them about the problem and they want to send you a gift certificate for your trouble.”

Me: “Why is Verizon scraping content like this in the first place? What value is this providing to your customers? You aren’t even aware of what you are publishing.”

Verizon: “Our competitors do it so we do it. We want to provide customers a portal where they can get news and entertainment.”

Me: “So customers are logging into the Verizon site to get their news? Probably not. Your company is blindly scraping content from the Internet without acknowledging or compensating the authors. I don’t know how that is ethical or serving your customers in any way. The blog post you took from me didn’t even have anything to do with news or entertainment. Did you see the post?”

Verizon: “It was about social media or something.”

Me: “It was about hiring companies to do fake tweeting for you. How is just scraping random content part of a customer strategy?

Verizon: “I’m not going to debate our strategy.”

Me: “But what you did was illegal.”

Verizon: “It was not illegal.”

Me: “I have a position written by an attorney if you would like to see it.”

Verizon: (silence) “Where can I mail your gift certificate?**

Social media ethics: Have you had enough?

If you are a regular reader of {grow}, you know that I do not take pot shots at people or companies. I focus on issues, not individuals, because my goal is to educate with a positive attitude that helps and inspires people.

But this latest episode with Verizon, where an honest inquiry was ignored for three months, serves as a tipping point for me. I’m tired of being treated like a piece of meat, like I owe people something just because I have a blog that has attracted an active readership, or that my content is free to use at will for private commercial purposes.

Bloggers are the latest in a long line of abused professional workers. Is there anything that can change this or is the two-edged sword of free Internet content always going to be jabbing us?

Maybe it is time for a professional association or a watch dog group to stand up for the rights of all content creators because this abuse is just not right. If you have the interest in this and the legitimate ability to make it happen, I will be your first investor.

**Never did get the gift certificate.

Update: This article was syndicated (with permission) by and several other sites after it first appeared on {grow}. I estimate it had at least 2,000 social shares across various networks. After this went viral, I received a communication from the Verizon PR department offering to “fix the problem.” For the eighth time, I sent Verizon links, a screen shot and a detailed explanation of the problem. Two weeks later, I have not had a response from her.

On November 20 — 112 days after I made my first inquiry to the company — I received a gift certificate from Verizon’s content vendor (not Verizon) to cover the cost of what I paid Kerry to write the original article.

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