Pride and the Drive For Stolen Wit

When someone falsely claims to have been a member of the military, it is called “stolen valor.” I’d like to propose a similar term for people who steal content for the sake of making themselves appear funny, smart, deep, spiritual, etc: Stolen Wit.

I’m not referring to re-posting a meme that carries no attribution to the original creator. Though that is bothersome as well, it is so ubiquitous that it is difficult to get too worked up about. No, what I am referring to with the term stolen wit, are social media posts that contain inspirational quotes, jokes or even stories and the original poster makes no indication that they aren’t the author of the content.

The inspirational stories are sometimes the easiest to spot because most of the time they finish off with the standard “like and share” request. Once I start reading someone’s post and get an inkling that it might not be their own story, I just skip to the end to see that telltale sign and then thank myself for not wasting any more time finishing reading it.

I have a strange interest in identifying stolen inspirational quotes. Most of the people I am friends with on social media, I haven’t known in real life for many years but I still know them well enough to sniff out when something they post might not be their own thoughts. And it is really quite easy to know for certain: Simply copy and paste their post into a search engine and you’ll find who the original author was pretty quickly. (Side note: I’ve been using DuckDuckGo for awhile now because Google is well…Google, but I discovered that they have a character limit on search queries so this is one area where Google is better.)

The Prideful Plagiarizing Pastor

Try saying that heading 3 times fast. A number of years ago, a childhood friend who became a pastor was posting little inspirational things to his feed with no indication that he wasn’t the author. Now, no offense to this friend but even having not been around him for 20 years or more, I know that he isn’t that deep. Sure enough, copying his posts into Google revealed that each one was a direct quote from various Christian authors. He happily collected all the Facebook likes and comments thanking him for his encouraging words and never once mentioned that the words were not his own.

I should mention that I really don’t like dishonesty and I also don’t like pride, especially in church leadership. His actions smelled of both. I believe the Bible teaches that we should correct a brother or sister who is in error. So I sent this pastor friend a private message and very gently asked him why he doesn’t say who he is quoting in his posts. Unfortunately he became very defensive right away and before long unfriended me.

His pride and love of meaningless internet accolades couldn’t allow him to examine the heart issue behind his actions. At least at that time. Hopefully he took the time to think about it more and change course eventually.

Why Do I Care?

That’s a good question and the first thing my former pastor friend asked me when I messaged him. Perhaps some of you have been asking the same while reading this post. I guess I just see it as an issue of integrity. The people I most often see engaging in this behavior are people I know on social media. It is like broadcasting that maybe this person isn’t entirely trustworthy or at the very least is too invested in earning fake internet points.

I’m reminded of a time when I was in the band CrewmanNumber7 and we were playing a show with another local band opening for us. Thanks to a well produced album at a time when it wasn’t so easy to achieve that as it is today, we had suddenly become one of the bigger names in the local music scene (at least that’s how I remember it). We played our most popular song, Plutonium Girl, early in the set and the crowd wanted it again at the end. It was great.

After the show one of the two brothers in the opening band said to me “We’re going to steal your song.” Having just seen them rip off synth lines from the band Roper and others during their set, I fully believed him that they would indeed steal my song. Maybe that’s where this all stems from. Maybe some kid telling me he was going to steal my creative work nearly 20 years ago set me on a path to defending creative efforts of others all these years later.

Or maybe social media just makes me grumpy.