IT used to be that intellectual thieves simply stole people’s creative labour and passed them off as theirs. Well, that still happens. But in the frenetic, exhibitionistic world of social media, plagiarism is taking newer, more insidious, and less explicable forms.
Now, scores of Nigerians habitually pirate other people’s original thoughts, strip the thoughts of the names of their original authors, post them on their social media timelines (or share them on WhatsApp groups and other closed online forums), and pretend to be ethical by prefacing the word “#Copied” to their intellectual robberies.
But “Copied” doesn’t deodorise their ethical rottenness. It doesn’t minimise their dishonesty in not acknowledging the authors of the thoughts they share. It doesn’t vitiate their intellectual corruption. On the contrary, it aggrandizes their moral turpitude, their cognitive laziness, and their rank spinelessness. If your mind is too barren to conceive original, share-worthy thoughts, why deny credit to people who have taken the trouble to exert their minds and share their thoughts publicly?
An emerging, more sinister iteration of the social media virus of prefacing “copied” to stolen thoughts is the practice of falsely attributing authorship of the expression of people’s ideas to well-known people who didn’t author them. It’s a spinoff of the “Copied” intellectual roguery. People see a post that they like, which is mysteriously authored by a nameless, invisible author called “Copied.” Since “copied” isn’t the name of any human being,and they desire to associate a name to the post or article, they invent the name of any well-known personage that catches their sterile fancies and falsely give credit for the article to him or her.
I’ve been a victim of both forms of social media plagiarism. For instance, my name has been stripped from my July 27, 2019 column in the Nigerian Tribune titled “How Political Power Damages the Brain—and How to Reverse it,” where I shared psychological research on the relationship between power and brain damage. It was initially prefaced with “Copied” and is now misattributed to Pat Utomi without his consent! I hope Utomi is aware of this social media misattributed authorship fraud committed in his name and speaks up to dissociate himself from it.
Although the very first sentence of the column says, “I was one of seven professors who facilitated a leadership training in my university here in Georgia for local government chairmen from a major Nigerian southwestern state,” which indicates that the author lives in the US state of Georgia, the vulgar, low-IQ social media herd who shared the article on their timelines (and WhatsApp groups) nonetheless attributed it to Pat Utomi who lives in Lagos, Nigeria!
Before me, a young human rights activist by the name of Inibehe Effiong wrote a clever, punchy post about how one’s education is a waste if one can’t transcend narrow ethnic, religious, political, and regional loyalties. “If you are emotionally attached to your tribe [sic], religion or political leaning to the point that truth and justice become secondary considerations, your education is useless. Your exposure is useless. If you cannot reason beyond petty sentiments, you are a liability to mankind,” he wrote on Facebook.
After initially misattributing the Facebook post to the ubiquitous “Copied,” people now misattribute it to either Dr. Yusufu Bala Usman or Dr. Chuba Okadigbo. Effiong’s protests that the quote is original to him were drowned out by the wild cacophony of misattributed social media shares.
It’s now customary for Nigerians who want to start this odious practice to seek people’s permission on Facebook to share their public posts. I’d always wondered why people would write to seek permission to share a post that is public, and that people have already shared through Facebook’s “share” button. It later dawned on me that they’re actually seeking permission to copy people’s posts, deny them authorship, and preface “Copied” to the posts. What sort of cognitive sickness makes people do that?
But what is even more disquieting is the involvement of Nigeria’s institutional news media in this practice. For instance, on Wednesday, I exclusively exposed a secret memo that Muhammadu Buhari wrote to the Nigeria Police instructing it to illegally extend the years of service of his nephew by the name of Abdulkarim Dauda (who is also his Personal Chief Security Officer) who was due to retire this year after 35 years in the police.
My exposé, which I shared on Facebook and Twitter, went viral within hours. But Sahara Reporters and The Punch, two of Nigeria’s most widely read news outlets, repurposed my story without giving credit to me. To its credit, though, after I called it out on Twitter, Sahara Reporters’ editor sent me a private email to apologise for his indiscretion. He later edited the story to give me credit.
But, as of the time of writing this column on Friday, The Punch, which attributed the source of the memo to “social media,” has not acknowledged its ethical infraction, much less apologise for it. As I pointed out on Twitter, it’s a good think that the mainstream media have picked up the story and given it wings, but you can’t fight fraud with fraud. It takes nothing away from a media organisation’s institutional power and professional authority if it acknowledges the source of its news. In fact, it bolsters it.
The International Center for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), which I’ve had cause to severely censure on this page, was the most professional in reporting the Buhari nepotism scandal that I broke. It acknowledged me as the source of the memo, even linked to my blog post on its site, and went beyond what I put out to independently verify the authenticity of the memo. That’s admirable, ethical journalism.
In journalism studies, we call the phenomenon of traditional media deploying social media feeds for their news “backdraft.” It’s entirely legitimate. What isn’t legitimate, though, is intentionally concealing the source of the social media news feeds that informed their stories or being too lazy to verify the accuracy of the information on social media before publication. Those are cardinal journalistic sins that any news organization worth its name shouldn’t be caught committing.
BBC’s Sex For Grades Vs Ganjude’s Bribe Videos
BBC’s #Sex For Grades documentary is trending and inspiring an honest national conversation about the sexual exploitation of female undergraduates in Nigerian universities for only two reasons: BBC’s institutional prestige and Nigerians’ instinctive, inferiority-complex-driven reverence for the foreign, which I have characterised as xenophilia in past articles.
Had the investigation been done by a Nigerian news outlet, it won’t only have been a damp squib; its very authenticity and facticity would have been questioned. (Several newspapers, by the way, had done even more thorough investigative reporting of this troubling moral scourge in the past with little or no resonance with the national public sphere).
When Daily Nigerian’s Jaafar Jaafar painstakingly investigated Kano State governor Abdullahi Ganduje for two years and captured him in 15 video scenes (nine of which clearly showed his face) collecting kickbacks from contractors, APC minions questioned the authenticity of the videos. Someone even wrote about “deep fake” technology to muddy the waters, and Buhari picked up on this to wonder “what tekenulaji was used” to show Ganduje collecting kickbacks from contractors.
Like Buhari, the man rigged himself back to power in spite of this scandal, and there’s deafening silence everywhere. Had the investigation been done by the BBC, CNN, or any Western media outlet with enormous symbolic resources, and not the Daily Nigerian, I can bet my bottom dollar that there would have been no talk of “deep fake,” Buhari would never have asked what “tekenulaji was used” to make the videos, and Ganduje would probably not be governor today. We’re our own worst enemies.