I have been an online content creator for going on ten years. I began using social media regularly when I started my business back in 2016. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube became incredible places to promote and bring awareness to the business, and to connect with potential customers.
When the pandemic first landed stateside, I began using social media as a way to combat the boredom and the looming fear that the lockdowns brought. Like many millennials, I joined TikTok and, for the first time in years, began thinking of social media as a place to build community, to share about topics that mattered to me, and even to build a personal brand. I gained a following of over half a million on TikTok, and in light of that success, I started a personal Instagram page, too. I never considered myself an influencer. Rather, I considered myself a thought leader and community builder. It felt good to connect with like-minded people and create spaces for us to share, to inspire, and to learn from each other.
Now, in 2023, I’m still using social media in much the same way. I have a book coming out next fall, and I’m working diligently to connect with my potential readers and begin establishing rapport with them in advance of its release. Like most content creators, I put a lot of thought and energy into everything I post. Whether my content is in video format (TikTok, Instagram, YouTube) or written format (Threads, blog), I take a lot of pride in what I create.
Which is what makes it so devastating when someone plagiarizes my content. This plagiarism can take many forms. Sometimes, it is downloading my videos and re-uploading them to their social media page without adding anything transformational (this is called freebooting). Other times, it is lifting words directly from my blog, Threads, or static Instagram posts and posting them on their page as if they wrote those words without crediting the source.
There was a time when we, collectively, dismissed the idea of plagiarism on social media. After all, these aren’t published works. They aren’t trademarked or copy written. The territory was murky. And since, way back then, most people were only using social media as a way to keep up with long-distance relatives or friends from high school, we decided it wasn’t a big deal.
But things have changed since then. Social media has become a very useful tool for growing a business or a brand. In fact, some would say it has become even more useful than traditional marketing and promotion. There are people who have quit their jobs to do full-time content creation—who have changed lives for themselves and their families through this work. There are small businesses who would have struggled to connect with customers before Instagram and TikTok, who now can reach potentially millions of new customers every day. There are authors, like me, who see their gift with words as something special and unique—something they take great pride in sharing with the world. Whether we are self-published or traditionally published, the onus is always on us to promote and market our books. And social media is the very best place for us to do that.
Not only that, but with the monetization of platforms such as AdSense on YouTube, the Creator Fund on TikTok, and Meta Ads on Facebook and Instagram, anybody, regardless of what they do for a living, can easily supplement their income through content creation.
It is for all these reasons that we really must begin speaking about plagiarism on social media for the very real problem that it is.
For someone who makes their living through content creation, stealing their content puts their livelihood at risk. For authors, stealing their written word is stealing their intellectual property. And aside from the financial elements of plagiarism on social media, it’s just downright disrespectful. It’s dishonest. It’s stealing. And if someone dares to steal someone else’s content and put it on their own page that is monetized and then profit from that theft, that should be downright criminal. I’ll be honest, I’m not very knowledgeable about the laws surrounding social media plagiarism. If I had to guess, I’d imagine the law hasn’t quite caught up to this new landscape of intellectual property. And, even if the laws do exist, I’m sure they are difficult to litigate in court. Which, now that I think about it, is probably why so many people feel so comfortable doing it.
I know this will sound dramatic, but I stand by this: stealing social media content should be taken just as seriously as stealing from a store or a gas station. If you wouldn’t walk out of a store with a pair of shoes smuggled under your coat, you also shouldn’t rip off someone else’s intellectual property and pass it off as your own. Especially if you are going to profit from it.
It’s easy to look at the most successful content creators out there—the ones with millions of followers who are making more money than seems strictly necessary—and think, eh, what’s the big deal? Who cares if we take a bit of their work for ourselves? But thinking this way neglects all the small content creators: the small business owners, the single moms, the young entrepreneurs, the budding authors, artists, and musicians, who are all huffing it every day just to see their dream become a reality. It is shameful to steal from anyone, but especially people like that.
This is an issue that needs to be taken seriously. Not just in the courts, but also in our everyday understanding of right and wrong. And I hope this happens sooner than later.
Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.