Rocket Bomber - article - snark - Content Laundering

Content Laundering

filed under , 10 May 2014, 14:30 by

Perhaps understandably (as a blogger, etc and et al.), I’ve been thinking quite a bit recently on the value of a link, and a share, and how this ‘economy’ of attention is actually running:

How often have you seen something shared via Tumblr or Reddit, and laughed, and maybe tweeted a link (or reflex-reblogged to your own tumblr) and then, after the quick grin or chuckle, forgotten about it?

[source: Wikimedia Commons – original image cropped]

Happens a dozen times a day, or more, per person. It’s a common behavior (habit, even) for a significant fraction of the 2 Billion or so internet users — if you’re reading this blog, then yes: both you and I do it.

But then a few days or a week later, you see the same thing posted to a different blog. You know you saw it first, but here it is again in a buzzfeed list, or as unattributed art on someone’s facebook. As it turns out: we all kinda-sorta all like the same things. It’s why some content is referred to as ‘viral’ — not just that it spreads fast, but that it gets spread from hand-to-hand and via many channels. When a meme or a trend really blows up, well a month later or so the video makes an appearance on some local affiliate or cable TV news.

But who gets the credit?

  • The original creator? Sure, with luck.
  • The ‘first share’? The person who found the ‘neat thing’ (whatever it is) and gave it the initial signal boost? – no, that’s usually lost (long lost) by the time *I* see something (your experience may be different)
  • The professional sharer? We all have our favorite aggregators, some of which specialize in funny — but even a “serious” site can’t resist the temptation to share the best grinners, especially if they’re on-topic (or just that great, seriously, I mean click this link and go see cats being catlike)
  • Buzzfeed?
  • Facebook?

Hell, if it’s really good: about six months from now you’ll see it again via email from that one friend/relative who’s been sharing stale crap for years now – and thinks they’re a comedic genius for doing so. (Bad pixellated scans of newspaper-clipped one panel comics from the 80s? Re: RE: RE: re: FWD: Re: FWD: FWD: FWD:? Oh, hell yeah.)

Should we be worried about the provenance of our cat videos? No. And obviously, even in internet terms, a week or two isn’t really old.

But it seems like a small but loud portion of the internet is concerned with “credit” — and I have to put credit in quotes because it’s not a matter of creating content but rather who saw, and shared, it first. On tumblr, folks take an already funny TV show, pull out a flapping-mouth gif with the punchline as the caption, and then in all seriousness tag it, #mygif. Sure, the process of making gifs is non-trivial, but what part of that is yours, dear tumblerite? The original script? The performance of the actor? The copyright already owned by the broadcaster or production company?

I’ve noted this on tumblr because the .gif (however one pronounces it) is endemic (though not original) to that platform. 4chan, being older, is about static images (which have evolved into over-recycled jpgs with the ubiquitous allcaps impact-typeface captions that range from obvious to unfunny — the meme meme is stale) (which is why the reaction gif is taking over, I’m thinking) — reddit is about links (often a link to reddit-fellow-traveller imgur, where the meme or gif actually lives, but still a link means you have to craft a witty text headline — making reddit the spiritual successor of fark, even if most redditors are too young, perhaps, to be aware of venerable-in-internet-terms — twitter, to its credit, seems to favor the snappy one-liner or self-contained joke. OK, let me check and make sure all my parenthesis are closed…

So anyway, following the success of the social sharing platforms, along comes the opportunist — companies that take the same shared content, slap a bunch of ads all over the page, make our fun into their ‘product’ — and kinda spoil the whole thing.

Read this, from Rachel Dukes at mixtape comics : “After a discussion last week with several of my cartoonist peers (and at the behest of Steve Bissette): I want to talk about image theft and uncredited content on social media.”

When we talk about credit, what we really should be concerned about is authorship: who actually created the content that drives everything else. In the case of 4chan-originated memes, the point is moot (yes, pun intended) as everyone on the ‘chans is pointedly anonymous — that’s part of the joke, and the ‘charm’. Casual sharing is usually the same: “Ha! lemme link that…” – I don’t know and don’t care if you’ve actually clicked the link after I share it, because my interaction with the content was all of a minute (at most) and I’ve already moved on to something else.

But when you take art and ‘file off the serial number’ to post without attribution, that’s more than ‘kind of’ wrong (see: ). Some sites out there steal content wholesale, in some cases using RSS feeds to scrape-and-repost carefully crafted articles in real time — several reviewers in my larger internet circles have seen this happen (and in the case of reviews: an already-minuscule income-trickle from affiliate links can disappear, as your intended audience is siphoned away without even knowing they’ve been re-directed).

[source: Wikimedia Commons]

There is little enough creative activity taking place [google “the death of originality”] but even in a post-internet world when the remix, mash-up, and photoshop have evolved into their own artforms, we need to take a half second to think about being responsible, and then take a half minute to cite sources.

I really meant this as a condemnation of laziness, as opposed to a call for action: I know all of my readers are responsible netizens. The lesson needs to be directed to the uncaring and thoughtless sharing masses who do this on a small scale (microscopic scale) just one mistake at a time — and the real umbrage should be targeted at the nefarious opportunists doing this on a huge scale for profit.

One step at a time, though; and change begins at home/we must become the change we want to see in the world/“I’m starting with the man in the mirror”. *


    • Sir Thomas Brown (paraphrased) / Mahatma Gandhi / Michael Jackson
      see also:

    Comment by Matt Blind — 10 May 2014, 14:29 #

Commenting is closed for this article.

Yes, all the links are broken.

On June 1, 2015 (after 6 years and 11 months) I needed to relaunch/restart this blog, or at least rekindle my interest in maintaining and updating it.

Rather than delete and discard the whole thing, I instead moved the blog -- database, cms, files, archives, and all -- to this subdomain. When you encounter broken links (and you will encounter broken links) just change the URL in the address bar from to

I know this is inconvenient, and for that I apologise. In addition to breaking tens of thousands of links, this also adversely affects the blog visibility on search engines -- but that, I'm willing to live with. Between the Wayback Machine at and my own half-hearted preservation efforts (which you are currently reading) I feel nothing has been lost, though you may have to dig a bit harder for it.

As always, thank you for reading. Writing version 1.0 of Rocket Bomber was a blast. For those that would like to follow me on the 2.0 - I'll see you back on the main site.



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