(January 4th, 2007)
Internet Plagiarism and "Splogs"
I’ve reviewed a number of abhorrent diabetes scams at my other websites (see Too Good to be True? and Scams), but I decided to write about a different example today: about diabetes websites that might be called “splogs” (spam blogs) - “where content is often either inauthentic text or merely stolen from other websites” (1).
I recently received a request to link to a web site called DiabetesEpidemic.com. I looked around the web site, and noticed that it was in the general format of a blog, had lots of Google ads, and that the content seemed quite detailed and sophisticated but that the website lacked any indication of who had authored the webpages. I also noticed that the website lacked any “About Us” webpage - which I routinely read to try to understand the motivations of the authors.
The combination of a blog format, sophisticated writing style, and no indication of authorship is a red flag that the web site might be a “splog”, and that plagarism might be occurring, so I
did a Google search of a few pages to see if I could spot whether the information at DiabetesEpidemic.com might perhaps
be identical to information already published. I rapidly found several pages from DiabetesEpidemic.com that
were “lifted” word-for-word from other websites:
I wrote back to the author of DiabetesEpidemic.com, stating “Your website contains content identical to that on other websites, without any attempt at attribution. This is inappropriate, and probably illegal… I would strongly suggest you add appropriate attributions, and indicate that you have permission to reproduce the webpages (if indeed you do).” Probably needless to say, the author has not written back to me.
- A story at DiabetesEpidemic.com dated December 28, 2006 begins “Carbonated drinks are to be enjoyed by all." And Sade Oguntola, in this report, writes that "extra care is needed when children take them, so that they do not end up creating health problems.” This entry is identical to a news story from the Nigerian Tribune (written by Sade Oguntola!) and dated the same day.
- Four personal stories at DiabetesEpidemic.com, dated December 2006, about Malcolm, Mike, Judith, and Joseph, were lifted word-for-word from articles written in 2003 at the website of the
Public Health Agency of Canada.
So, why do people do this? I can imagine two scenarios.
The first might be sincere but misguided people who want to make more diabetes information available to the world, but do not understand the concept of plagarism, which can be defined as “Stealing someone else's published ideas or information and presenting them as your own, without giving proper credit”(2).
The other scenario is more nefarious: The authors have no intention to do anything except to make money by abusing Google’s ad program. This practice is described at Wikipedia (3) as “Possibly the most popular form… are splogs (spam blogs), which are centered around known high-paying keywords. Also many sites use free content from other web sites, such as Wikipedia, to attract visitors.” I would modify Wikipedia’s statement to say “many sites use free or stolen content from other web sites to attract visitors and make money inappropriately from Google ad click-throughs.”
In any case, it’s now very common to find websites that display Google ads (including mine). If you do, look for “About Us” or similar page that delineates a legitimate purpose for the website’s existence. If you can’t find one, you may be at a splog.
(1) Discussion of “Spam blog” at Wikipedia
(2) Definition of plagarism from the Riverside Community College District Library and Learning Resource Center
(3) Discussion of Google’s AdSense advertising program at Wikipedia