Twitter can be a beautiful place. It can bring people together through hashtags. It can help organize civil protest and raise awareness of causes quickly, efficiently, and with great success. At its best, Twitter is a powerful force that can make us laugh, inform us, and even help enact change in the real world.
But Twitter can be a shitty place too. One or two wrong clicks can engulf you in a wormhole of the worst things anonymous humanity has to offer. People can be mean. People can be hateful. People can steal.
And it is that last one we will be focusing on today.
My Twitter senses began tingling at the site of this tweet:
I forget how I initially stumbled across this tweet. But regardless, it found its way into my timeline, and when I saw it, it felt oddly familiar, because it was.
That is Twitter legend and Grantland contributor @SheaSerrano. He is one of my favorite tweeters and will make you smile with 140-character stories of being a dope father and husband. As you can tell by the timestamps on these respective tweets, @TheJustinDuncan ripped Shea off. @SheaSerrano does not deserve to be ripped off. I was in the middle of thinking of a snarky response to send to @TheJustinDuncan, only to see that another Twitter user, @jeff_underscore, had the situation covered.
At this point, I decided there was at least the start of a story here. Is stealing on Twitter a big thing? The cynic in me thought “Well, obviously.” But to be honest, I had never thought of actively stealing a tweet; it seems ridiculous to go through the effort of copy/pasting in order to take credit for a 140-character thought when you can hit “Retweet” and give proper acknowledgement to the original author.
Despite my previous optimism of the human spirit online, it soon became clear that Twitter theft was very much a thing. Exhibit A came when I tried to open up the tweet in question again.
@TheJustinDuncan had deleted it from his timeline. This seemed like pretty damning evidence. The chase was on.
Thankfully, I already had a copy of @TheJustinDuncan’s tweet up on my computer before it was deleted. I screengrabbed that boy and decided that I would do the same for every tweet in question to follow, for fear that Justin would get suspicious of my sudden stream favoriting of his possibly stolen tweets. I was now aware of the type of person I was dealing with, at least, in an anonymous online sense of the word “aware.”
So I had my initial headline – @TheJustingDuncan stole a tweet from a Twitter hero of mine. Now I had to investigate. Was this a recurring theme? How many of @TheJustinDuncan’s 2,017 tweets since July of 2010 were not original thoughts? What percentage of his almost 42,000 followers were lured in under false pretenses? A simple search quickly revealed that this was not an isolated incident.
Searching his mentions, I found this gem from @velocipietonne. She had also been robbed by @TheJustinDuncan, having posted this…
…one year and six days before this…
Now we had two examples of Twitter theft that took place within four days of each other. At this point, I felt confident that this was at least a semi-regular habit. It was obvious that not every tweet by Justin was stolen; there were some personal or girlfriend-centric tweets that wouldn’t make sense coming from an outside source, and there were other tweets that weren’t entertaining enough to have been stolen.
With this in mind, I began to comb through Justin’s last month of tweets, looking for any quip or joke that seemed suspicious. Anything relating to currently trending memes – pumpkin spice, Ebola, the changing of the seasons – was not to be trusted. My findings were both surprising and troublesome. Now follow along here. @TheJustinDuncan makes a pretty meh poop joke, earning himself 8 retweets. This tweet occurred today, the same day as his hijacking of @SheaSerrano, and his first reply from @grey_shaft_ addresses this point while also calling Justin a “bitch.”
I am guessing Grey Shaft was another fan of Shea’s who was attempting to throw shade in his defense as I had planned on doing earlier. On first viewing, I was under the impression that this was an original creation of the mind of Justin. But just two replies later @jared_smith88 was gracious enough to link to a joke site. Click there and you’ll find this:
This joke is dated November 3rd, 2011. There is no way of knowing if this is the actual source that @TheJustinDuncan found this mediocre joke on, or just one place where it can be found on the Internet. My guess is the latter, as Justin seems to keep his game on Twitter, and the first hit of a Google search showed that user @MeganShpettit had tweeted it out in 2012, and was subsequently featured in a slideshow compiled by mandatory.com.
The second hit of that Google search is the Twitter profile of @TheJustinDuncan, despite the fact that again, the tweet has since been deleted.
Up to three stolen/unoriginal tweets in a four day period, I forged on. Things were about to get interesting.
Solid tweet. A bit too solid, in fact. I searched Twitter for this exact phrasing and found that two people had quoted his tweet and one person had hijacked it word for word without giving proper credit. But as I was about to sympathize with the thief getting thieved, I saw one more tweet in the search results:
@CrystalKafalas gave Justin a good old fashioned “LOL” in reply to his funny tweet. But this reply happened December 27th, 2013. @TheJustinDuncan was now guilty of not only three major counts of Twitter thievery, but a Twitter misdemeanor for recycling content. He didn’t even wait a year between tweets.
I favorited @CrystalKafalas’ tweet in order to find it later. As soon as I realized what I had done, I smiled at what a creep Crystal must think I am for favoriting the tweet of a total stranger that was from last Christmas. I assure you Crystal, I was just doing my job.
I got back to work.
Stolen. First seen on Twitter on October 3rd at the hands of @DragonflyJonez.
It should be clear by now that this is a regular thing. @TheJustinDuncan goes to the Internet and finds a clever turn of phrase or insight that takes up 140-characters or less, and then publishes it on Twitter as his own.
This happens. Now, how much does it matter?
The line is clearly defined in my mind, but there are certain places where I can understand it getting muddled.
It was straight up wrong of Justin to steal Shea’s tweet. That was a joke that Shea came up with and very obviously fit in with his form of Twitter comedy. If Justin wanted to share the same sentiment, just give Shea a retweet, real simple. It creeps me out to the ninth degree that 74 people retweeted a joke about Peyton Manning’s prowess thinking that it came from this fraud.
But this process works both ways. Throughout my search, for every instance I found of Justin taking words that weren’t his and tweeting them out to the world, I found more and more examples of others doing the same thing to Justin. Namely, one Twitter user going by the name of @PrincCharmng.
Apparently, @PrincCharmng is in the same game as @TheJustinDuncan, he is just much lazier about it. He also has more than 60,000 followers on Twitter. He goes by WEEMS online. He uses this picture in his Twitter profile:
I don’t know who these people are or what business they have with Twitter. Neither of them seem to be involved media professionals who would have a vested interest in amassing a great amount of followers. They both have plenty of tweets that are personal and would most likely be completely irrelevant to the majority of their followers.
I do not know why 60,000 people would care about WEEMS’ heartbreak. It’s possible that there are a lot of bots making up his followers, but I am not about to scroll through 60,000 names to find out.
More than anything, I crave to know what drives WEEMS and Justin to post the thoughts as their own. I crave to know what they view Twitter as, because their view is clearly different from mine. I love Twitter because it gives me the chance to share my thoughts in real time while watching sports on television. It also helps me promote my blog, and keep tabs on friends and professional writers that I wish to emulate as my skills continue to develop.
WEEMS and Justin, I imagine, have a completely different outlook. I wonder if they feel pressure to perform. With so many followers, would my own tweeting process change? Would I feel a need to generate good content? A need that became so strong that I began taking from more quiet corners of the Internet and repeating the words I heard in a voice loud enough that people presumed they were my own?
I will probably never have enough followers to find out.
In the mean time, I hope that the likes of WEEMS and Justin stick to retweeting, as opposed to stealing the words of others and passing them off as their own. I know that these are just silly little tweets. These are not published papers or the idea for Facebook. These are small potatoes in terms of the importance of the ideas being taken. But they are potatoes nonetheless. And these dudes need to find their own fucking root veggies.
Even after scanning the Twitterverse for hours in preparation for this article, I feel I still have little understanding of just how much theft takes place online on a daily basis. It’s possible that I am taking it all too seriously. I am guessing that many will find this is the case. But as a kid who is trying to grind his way through the Internet one mediocre tweet at a time, I take this shit personally. My tweets may not impress you or make you laugh as consistently as those of WEEMS and @TheJustinDuncan, but I can assure that they will be mine, or a retweet that is properly attributed to it’s original owner.
352 followers already agree that tweets like this are good enough to keep them from unfollowing me.
You could be follower 353 if you act fast – @tylerlauletta. I hope as my numbers slowly go up, maybe, just maybe, the followers of @TheJustinDuncan and @PrincCharmng begin to fade. Until then, they should try to keep their tweets original.
If they keep stealing, they might be caught.
Remember, Tweets is Watching.