The Paradox of Openness: Attribution (network ‘whispers’)

In a series of posts around our ALT-C symposium (The Paradox of Openness: The High Costs of Giving Online), Frances Bell, Josie Fraser, Richard Hall and myself pose a range of issues for debate, provoking participants to reconsider the costs of participation online, openness, and the sharing of resources. Following on from my earlier post, which highlighted issues around the tyranny of authenticity, I’m now going to briefly explore ‘network whispers’. Ideas and content are shared easily through open platforms, and yet attributions can be masked in the flow of dissemination: does credit always go where it is due?

This is something that I’m sure we’ve all experienced/noticed at some time. Only this morning I received a comment on my earlier blog post that (at first glance) appeared to mistakenly attribute my post to one of the other commenters (thanks to Anne Marie Cunningham for clarification – see comment below). A further scenario that springs to mind is a fairly recent case where I had tweeted a link to a video made by some of my students. In spite of clearly stating in the tweet that it was their work (not mine), when I checked back into Twitter later on that day I was happy to see that it had been retweeted many times – but slightly dismayed to see that in the flow of dissemination, the link was now being referred to as ‘@heloukee’s film’, suggesting that I had made it myself. When we promote our students’ work, are we also promoting ourselves? Whether intentional or not, it is possible that we ‘profit’ in some way (reputation, social capital) from their work – in this case I was happy to be retweeted, but felt guilty about the mis-attribution and tried to clear up the confusion (through a tweet – should have followed it’s progress really…).

I came across this post from plagiarism today ‘Watching Attribution Erode on Twitter’, which offers a nice example of Network Whispers in action:

“The case study follows a single tweet put out by user @Haleys_Hell (NSFW Language Warning) on August 7th of this year. The tweet went as follows:

I once had a goldfish that would hump the carpet, but only for about 30 seconds.

The tweet became something of a small sensation, shooting quickly to 100 favorites and earning a lot of retweets. However, not all mentions of the tweet carried with it proper attribution. FunFlood looked at some six days of the tweet’s history, starting on August 12th, and noticed that many of the tweets lacked credit for the joke or gave incorrect attribution.

While this isn’t terribly surprising, what is interesting about it is how the attribution eroded away. On the first few days of tracking, nearly all the tweets were either true retweets or attributed tweets (using RT @ format). However, after a few days, it was the unattributed tweet and the misattributed tweets that were winning out, growing to the point that, on the last day of tracking, there were no correctly attributed tweets at all.”

For a more in-depth analysis/discussion of the case, it’s worth reading the original case study ‘Tracking a Stolen Tweet

Network Whispers are seemingly inevitable in the rapid flow of dissemination through social platforms. There are numerous posts in the blogosphere which highlight issues around attribution on platforms including Twitter Playing “Twitter Whispers” with your message and attribution and Tumblr Tumblr, attribution and the Internet, also some interesting thoughts relating power relations between old and new media, the excellent What’s the best way to give retweet attribution on Twitter? (there’s a great cartoon from The Joy of Tech in this post), along with How Misunderstanding Retweets Can Get You Suspended From Twitter, and even a Comic Flowchart That Encourages Attribution of Work Found Online.

Attribution can easily be lost as content passes along a network resulting in credit not going where it is due. It is clear how easily this happens in a platform such as Twitter (viral-like spread of information through networks, the desire to modify tweets in order to add value through comments/curation). I’d love to hear your thoughts and share your experiences in an educational context. What implications might there be for our learners, and for us as educators?

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4 thoughts on “The Paradox of Openness: Attribution (network ‘whispers’)

  1. I can’t answer for twitter, but for HTML entities, this just got a *lot* easier.

    The excellent new schemas at brand-new schema.org contain enough elements to please any metadata curmudgeon (like me 😉 ). What is lovely about them, however, is that – unlike every other schema in the world – they get indexed by google and bing.

    So not only will we be able to differentiate ‘a Christmas carol’ the book from all-purpose christmas carols when searching, we will be able to tsp ourselves as in our own work. A big step forward!

  2. Maybe we over-estimate the importance of attribution? 🙂
    By the way, do you really think your last post was wrongly attributed to me? I read John Mak’s comment a few times but think he did mean to address my comment (rather than post) but I’m not sure.
    In any case its obvious that your post is by you and not by anyone else. If someone did make a mistake in commenting then I can’t see that it has any implication for you.
    Why is attribution important? I don’t think it is just about personal reputation. Its because if you can see what is the source of someone’s idea or the content they are sharing, then you can go back to that original source and check your own understanding against it.
    With regards to your student’s work, it wasn’t your intention to claim credit for this, and more people possibly accessed it because your name was associated with it. If they arrived there and saw that it wasn’t your work and felt annoyed that you had been claiming it was, then they could look at your twitter stream and see that you never had.
    If anything it seems to me that digital trails do make attribution much more easy. I still hear people at conferences saying that they don’t want to blog about their work because they have been burnt by having their ideas (presented in a non-digital setting) stolen and published. if the did publish their conference presentation then this would make things much harder for the ‘stealer’.
    In any case publishing ideas early should be good as there is little point in 5 people around the world working away on the same ideas in isolation.

  3. I keep finding phrases from my tweets in other people’s blogs.

    On the one hand I’m flattered by their in-attribution, whether consciously lifeted of not. On the other hand, the craft in capturing he zeitgeist in 140 characters feels worth of some, small amount of credit.

    But these are the times in which we live.

  4. Pingback: Creative Commons Rocks! « lawrencewatkins1

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