Tuesday, July 03, 2012

It's the Funny Pictures, Stupid

I've been thinking about social websites and attributing sources this spring.

I joined Pinterst, and one of the first things that irked me was how difficult it can be to trace back to an original site. I don't necessarily want to rely on (or re-post) a household tip, a recipe, a bit of advice if I can't tell that it came from a reputable source. And then there are the quotations and funny bits! I feel mindless passing on apparent bits of wisdom from Dorothy Parker, or unattributed gags. Then again -- what of those quote books we loved to keep in the 1980s? If I jotted down Letterman's hilarity, or a school book's wisdom, I know the source; but I also liked to copy out bits from a friend's book. Mindless re-posting?

I'm not sure if my copying from a friend's quote book is exactly the same as mindless re-posting, but it does refresh my insight into the young adult mind. At the beginning of this year, I'd read an item or two (which I need to find an example of to stick here) about how as more parents became active on Facebook, more kids ditched it and started connecting in other creative ways. Young people forbidden from Facebook also took these tactics. I read that they flocked to Google+, tumblr, or Instatgram to socialize unseen by their folks. I broached the subject with the teen advisory board, many of whom are not allowed on Facebook (even as they were completing their first year of high school). I was most puzzled by tumblr, which I took to be a blogging site: what on earth are you writing about? "Oh, I use it mostly to share funny pictures." Aha!Of course that's what teens most want to share. My Facebook and Pinterest feeds suggest adults are little different.

I often want to post witty/useful things on the library's teen sites (the "quotation" from Lincoln about not trusting online sources, e.g.), but we teen librarians are dedicated to modelling source attribution to the kids. For example, if they make a PowerPoint of book recommendation, we try to steer them to images in the public domain and to credit it if that the terms of a Creative Commons permission. Given this need to Do it Right, I find Pinterest and Facebook infuriating "sources" of humor: where's the beginning?

This morning I got around to my paper copy of the Sunday Washington Post's Technology page, and found that I am not the only one trying to trace back.* Farhad Manjoo (writing for Slate at the same time, I guess I should say) explores a particular BuzzFeed post that garnered tons of attention, particularly as it circulated on Facebook. "Like a modern-day, unstuffy Reader's Digest, BuzzFeed has a knack for distilling the good and the bad of life on the Internet into short, fun, highly clickable vignettes," he wrote. He investigated the sources of the post "21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity" and also asked officials at BuzzFeed about citing sources. They talked about bringing together diverse images, clarifying the importance or meaning, and repackaging - that it's fair use that way. Manjoo doesn't seem convinced ("I'll leave it to you to decide if BuzzFeed is taking more than it's adding") and I'm certainly not convinced enough to begin to post all the funny pictures I know our kids are into without finding some kind of attribution. Although, gee it would be a great way to drive up traffic to our sites.

*Here I am trying to make a point about citations, so I need to say that this version of the story (accessed on July 3, 2012) is slightly different that what I read in my paper, out of town edition.