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I was pointed out in chat that some user might have strange behaviour. I had actually ok-ed Late Answers from that user and had another look at one of them.

This text is copied verbatim from http://forums.fedoraforum.org/archive/index.php/t-85446.html ( post from 2008-12-14). Should I flag this after the fact? And if so how? Moderator attention?

IIRC when reviewing there is an option to indicate a post is without attribution, but I am not sure which queue.

  • I went and dug a little further, this user seems to exclusively or almost exclusively post plagiarized content of varying relevance. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Dec 6 '13 at 12:56
  • @gilles, missed this comment at first, came back after I did not see the post anymore %-) – Anthon Dec 6 '13 at 15:28
  • 1
    A moderator came and deleted this user's plagiarized answers (i.e. all of them). He missed his one question, which is also plagiarized, I flagged it. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Dec 6 '13 at 16:14
  • @Gilles - thanks. Strugee alerted me to the user last night and I also flagged one of the A's for mod assist. Also left several notes too. Never got a single reply from him. I also noticed some unusual voting patterns w/ that account too last night, so it may have been an attempt to establish a legit acct. At one point the rep jumped from 30's to 150's. The main pattern I noticed was that most of the Q's were older, w/ accepted A's already + high upvotes. – slm Dec 6 '13 at 16:24
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Plagiarism is not acceptable anywhere on Stack Exchange. You can point people to “How to reference material written by others” in the help center and to FAQ on the main meta — I sometimes do it with a comment like this:

Plagiarism is not cool.

Plagiarism is passing someone else's content as your own. Note that this is unrelated to any copyright or license. Furthermore, plagiarism is only about content, not ideas, and only applies if the content was copied, not if the content was written independently. (Note that the academic world also applies plagiarism to ideas: in an academic publication, all ideas must be credited unless they are “folklore”. This doesn't apply on Stack Exchange where we do not require citations and do not seek to specifically present novel ideas.)

For example, there might be a natural way to solve a problem, leading to multiple people writing the same short piece of code — that's not plagiarism. If you find the same solution explained in different words, that's not plagiarism. If this is an old post, beware that the external site may have copied Stack Exchange rather than the opposite. Also make sure not to berate someone for posting their own content — people might not use the same alias on Stack Exchange and on their blog.

If you've detected plagiarism, the first thing to do is correct the post. This means two things:

  • Add a reference to the source (typically with a link);
  • Put all copied text into quote formatting (even if it means that the whole post except for the attribution is in quote style).

The second point is important — it isn't enough to cite your source if you pass the text as your own, you must make it clear what part of your post is copied and what part is yours.

So, to reiterate: if you detect plagiarism, the first step is an edit. If this is a suggested edit, make sure that the edit summary explains what you've done (e.g. “added quote formatting for text copied from another source”).

Should you do more? It depends. If it's an old post and the user is long gone, there's no need to do anything more. If the user is still active, use your own judgement as to whether to leave a comment. I have had success educating some users; others just deny everything. It seems that some cultures do not have our aversion for plagiarism, and some users adapt while others don't.

If you notice a pattern of plagiarized posts, flag one. Be precise: link to the plagiarized posts (where you've already edited in the attribution), explain that there is a pattern of plagiarism. See if this is ongoing or past behavior: check the user's latest few posts before flagging.

Don't mention copyright. Moderators cannot decide whether a post violates someone's copyright and will (or at least should) deny all requests to make such decisions. This is because if moderators make a habit of enforcing the policing of copyright violations, they may be held liable if they once fail to make such enforcement.

Plagiarized answers have a higher than average chance of being irrelevant to the question where they're posted. If a plagiarized post is irrelevant, flag it for deletion and explain exactly why you're flagging (“this plagiarized answer does not answer the question at all because …”).

  • Thanks for the extensive answer. The material was on topic, otherwise I would have noticed while reviewing it in the Late Answers queue (at least I hope I pay enough attention while reviewing, normally scrolling down to the Question belonging to the Late Answer and reading that as well). I will go back and correct the one I linked to and write the user in question to go back and correct his other answers (as far as appropriate), and check if that was done in a few days. – Anthon Dec 6 '13 at 15:17
  • One thing that caught my eye was that one of the answers referenced Fedora 10. Another mentioned Java 1.5, which were smoking guns to me that the content was old and/or stolen. Examples: 1 & 2 for example. Need 10k rep to see them. – slm Dec 6 '13 at 16:20
  • @slm When I read one of his answers, I found the writing style familiar… – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Dec 6 '13 at 16:30
  • @Gilles - yes I left him a choice comment on that one as well, I like your comment better though 8-) – slm Dec 6 '13 at 16:33

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