Thursday, November 15, 2012

On Integrity

Note: I have made some edits to the original post, because I wanted to clarify a few things further.  It's my blog, and I can do that if I want to. 

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, but it’s taken me time to figure out exactly how to say it.

All of us are in this community for a reason.  We are here because we love books and have passion for discussing them with others.  Book blogging has helped myself and many others find people who share our interests, not just in terms of books, but often t.v. and movies as well.  Our ranks include book lovers, librarians, authors, illustrators, and anyone else I may be forgetting.

The book blogging community prides itself on integrity.  We can all agree that plagiarism is wrong and that credit should be given where credit is due. Some of us are even paid to have a deep knowledge of topics such as copyright.  Most people in this community want to stand up for their beliefs and educate others when they see that plagiarism is becoming a problem.  That, or we stand up when we see an author (or prospective author) bullying a blogger (or vice versa).  Lately, the nature of these interactions has led me to consider bowing out of the book blogging community.

We all know that there was a major plagiarism scandal last winter.  One of the most prominent bloggers in the community was accused of plagiarism and these accusations eventually proved to be true.  While some people handled this maturely, others were more than happy to become far too personal with their criticisms, insulting and personally attacking this individual in ways that are always uncalled for.  I had my opinions, but for the most part I kept my mouth shut, and I’m still going to.  I'm not sure if I can address the subject in a professional manner as opposed to ranting, particularly after seeing how the rest of the blogging community acted in this situation.  A lot of people stood up for the plagiarist and spoke up on her behalf until she was able to make an official statement on her blog.  She's since continued blogging, and I don't agree with how she handled the situation.  However, we all mistakes, and I don't think it's productive to simply wallow in them, so I think it's honorable that she at least tried to move on.

What happened in this case was unacceptable.  As it all happened, I kept asking myself, would anyone stand up for a plagiarist if they weren’t incredibly popular?  Would we just drive them in to the ground?  Based on some other incidents in the book blogging community, I’m afraid some individuals might actually do that.

For a community so focused on integrity, we’ve had some instances of bad behavior. It’s all well and good to be against plagiarism, but in my opinion, it’s worse to personally attack someone who committed it.  It’s certainly not how the situation would be handled in an academic or professional setting.  I’d go so far as to say that showing human decency is a great example of human integrity.  Yes, you can say, “It was wrong of this person for committing plagiarism,” but don’t throw out personal attacks.

Show integrity. Treat others with decency.  After that, we can worry about the rest.


  1. I agree -- to an extent.

    I do agree that personal attacks are wrong. The way the blogging community should have handled this was with grace and dignity, not personal name calling and ranting and such.

    But there is an issue here because of how prevalent the blogger in question was. For every person who called her out nicely, there was one who called her out meanly; for every one of those two kinds, there were three who forgave her. Three!

    Plagiarism, as a whole, is something ridiculously easy to avoid; just don't do it. The fact that she was so easily forgiven and that so many people decided not to comment because they didn't want to risk being mean says something about our community.

    There is a difference between being honest and being hurtful. So many people are afraid of being hurtful that they refuse to be honest. They shut up when they should speak up, unwilling to hurt somebody's feelings even if it's the truth.

    What she did was wrong. We should be able to call her out on her actions without personally attacking her.

    Was this handled differently than "an academic or professional setting?" Of course. We can't fail her from her own blog, nor can we fire her from blogging. The only thing we can do is bring the issue to light and make sure that everybody knows its wrong.

    By supporting her, by forgiving her, by not speaking out about it, it says its okay, that as long as you're popular enough and liked enough and sweet enough you can get away with something that nobody should do.

    And even if it's because you want to avoid hurting their feelings, it comes at a cost. You can be honest and nice. You can be mean and a liar.

    And sometimes, being nice for the sake of being nice is the easy way out.

    So I agree. Treat people with decency. But don't be afraid to call them out on their bullshit either.

  2. I'm going to start by addressing the point about this being handled in an academic or professional setting. When people are in those settings, they often adhere to set a societal norms that involves treating each other in a semi-civilized way--at least if they want to be respected as professionals. No, we can't fire anyone from blogging, and we shouldn't be able to. However, I think people think it's okay to treat someone worse than they normally would because it's all over the computer and they don't know the person who's committing plagiarism.

    I wasn't intending to imply that I personally forgive or still support this person. By saying that it's good that she continued blogging, what I really meant was that I think it's good that she made an effort to move on (which is what I should have said in the first place). We all make mistakes and they all have consequences, and one can't spend forever dwelling on one mistake. I don't agree with the steps this person took to remedy what she did, but I commend her effort to at least try to move past it.

    The last sentence of your comment is right--and what I tried to say in the last sentence of my second to last paragraph. My reasons for not calling the blogger out don't have to do with not her hurting her feelings. I just felt at the time that the dialogue about plagiarism in our community was unhealthy, and I didn't want to be involved in it. Honestly, I think being proactive instead of reactive is a better approach in these situations.

    So why have I never written a post explaining what plagiarism is and why it's wrong? I don't know. I don't like telling other people what they should blog about or how they should do it. Obviously, writing about how plagiarism is wrong isn't telling people how to blog, so much as explaining the difference between right and wrong. The thing is that a good number of bloggers know what plagiarism is and why shouldn't do it, including the blogger in this scenario. I guess I'm torn because if people know that plagiarism is wrong but do it anyways, I'm uncertain of what I should add to the conversation. I'll have to think that over for a while.

  3. Thanks for your post Liz.

    It is very easy to lose civility when your only contact with a person is through the computer screen. It's easy to forget the other party is in fact a real person with feelings, not just a username of blogger persona. I sometimes need to separate myself from the issue for a while and wait until I'm not frustrated with a person before I answer their email. I would hope everyone shoots to be civil, even they're calling someone out. And I respect your decision to stay out of what you saw as a hostile and unproductive conversation.

    I hope you stay in the blogging community. I appreciate your reviews and like to see your point of view.

    1. Tessa, at this point, I'm planning to stick around, so no worries! i just hope next time this type of conflict arises that everyone will handle it more professionally.

  4. I absolutely agree with you -- to be honest and call someone out without slinging personal attacks, because that type of behaviour is just childish, and I would hope that we, as a community, are better than that.

    Personally I'm shocked at all the support this person still gets. I know that I, personally, cannot support someone who didn't even admit what she did on her own blog. If you offer half-baked apologies and don't even own up to your specific mistakes, I can't respect you as a blogging "colleague", just like I wouldn't support or respect a classmate who stole a paper from a fellow student.

    1. I'm surprised as well. It seems like publishers never stop working with bloggers after they plagiarize, and I'd love to know why that is. Their representatives are all over Twitter and must know the drama.



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