Gawker Versus Black Twitter

Accusations of plagiarism add gasoline to the already fiery relationship between the two.

(The Root) — Lots of black folks on Twitter have a problem with sites like Gawker, Jezebel and BuzzFeed. Many feel that the wildly popular news entertainment sites mine what has come to be known as “black Twitter” for content, sometimes without citing or crediting the source of their ideas. In the midst of Twitter parties, someone always tweets something along the lines of “Now watch all of this end up on Gawker tomorrow.”

There was a mild riot on Twitter earlier today after someone accused Gawker of stealing content. Three days ago, Twitter user @TheWayOfTheId tweeted a series of clever tweets taking down the flawed media fixation with black-on-black crime and collected them via Storify. On Tuesday she alleged that this piece by Gawker’s Cord Jefferson borrowed very heavily from her tweets, at the very least.

Some retweets later, the tweets caught the attention of black folks on Twitter. Gawker proceeded to flip the heck out.

Whoever was manning Gawker’s Twitter account shot down the accusation, calling it “bulls–t.” They went on to counteraccuse the Twitterer of plagiarism, and Gawker writer Rich Juzwiak joined in the fray, screaming about how nobody knows who @TheWayOfTheId is. (I guess because big news outlets never take from smaller nameless content producers?)

With nerves and emotions raw, many hopped into the conversation to defend @TheWayOfTheId, reference similar charges made against Gawker in the past and speak out against what many see as the systematic online leaching of creative content and intellectual property. When someone pointed out how unprofessional Gawker was being, the response was: “Do you know what it means to be accused of plagiarism?” (As if feeling that you have been plagiarized by a huge media outlet isn’t also a big cause of concern for a writer.)

This was a pretty big PR fail for Gawker, regardless of the validity of the charges of plagiarism against it. Gawker’s rude, bullying handling of the situation closed many (already irritated) eyes and ears to what could have been a valid argument on its behalf. Maybe the content was lifted — but maybe it wasn’t. As witty and clever as @TheWayOfTheId”s material is, it isn’t something that someone else couldn’t have come up with, and in fact, many others have (I’ve made similar tweets myself without having seen those of @TheWayOfTheId). As the great prophet Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones once said, no idea is original; there’s no way to prove conclusively who is right either way.