Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Pinterest Problem

Maybe it's just my journalistic training, but I tend to be pretty hardcore when it comes to ethics in media. I like to give credit where credit is due.

Which is why it didn't surprise me that one of Pinterest's "Pin Etiquette" guidelines is to "Credit Your Sources":
Pins are the most useful when they have links back to the original source. If you notice that a pin is not sourced correctly, leave a comment so the original pinner can update the source. Finding the original source is always preferable to a secondary source such as Google Image Search or a blog entry.
The emphasis in bold is mine, because it's one of the guidelines I stick to pretty rigidly.

If I see an image on a blog that I'd like to pin, I try to click through to the original source and pin it from there.

If I see something I'd like to repin on Pinterest itself, but notice the link seems fishy (like "" or an expensive magazine-looking image from a Blogspot domain), I try not to repin it. I also don't leave a [douchey] comment for the original pinner asking them to correct the source, as Pinterest suggests. Instead, I again try to click through to the original source and pin from there, even if it takes some detective work.

What do I mean by detective work? Take this pin:

That image is all the heck over Pinterest, with the sources being random Blogspot, Tumblrs, and image searches. I tried Tineye and Google's reverse image search and still could not track down the original source.

I eventually found the image on House of Turquoise, where Erin went above and beyond and provided the architectural firm, designer, and photographer responsible. She also named the book it was published in. After checking the websites of all three responsible parties, as well as the book author, I found the image on the photog's page (I would've been satisfied with crediting anyone involved with designing or documenting the room), where I ultimately pinned it from. Right now, while that picture has been pinned and repinned dozens of times, I am one of just two people who've pinned it from the photographer's page.

This pin is another example:

I spotted this one on Pinterest and again could not find the original source. Using the same detective (broadcast reporter?) hunting skills as above, I tracked it to a book. While the author/designer didn't have the image on his website, I did find a blog that included the image in a review of the book and credited the image well. I pinned in from her blog.

So, why is this an issue? There are a couple of reasons, and the first one that comes to mind is copyright law. Before I signed up, I wondered how Pinterest skirted the copyright laws, but have since learned that they at least appear to take the matter somewhat seriously. Separate from the "Pin Etiquette" page I've already linked to, the site has a Copyright page, which details the dispute process and even gives the contact info for their Silicon Valley "Copyright Agent".

There's also the point Pinterest itself makes in the quote at the beginning of this blog post; Pins are the most useful when they have links back to the original source. That is, what is the point of having a pretty pin of a product to buy floating around, when one can't figure out how the heck to buy it? Or a pin of a DIY or craft project when there is no link to the how-to? Pins lacking their original sources make it difficult for those using Pinterest to discover new things.

And for me, perhaps those most annoying reason pinners need to find the original source is to avoid falling into the traffic-seeking trap that some bloggers have begun abusing using Pinterest for. Returning again to Pinterest's "Pin Etiquette" page, Pinterest suggests that users "Avoid Self Promotion":
Pinterest is designed to curate and share things you love. If there is a photo or project you’re proud of, pin away! However, try not to use Pinterest purely as a tool for self-promotion.
Like Pinterest mentions, I have no problem whatsoever with a blogger who creates a totally awesome project, takes photos and uploads them to their blog, and then pins from their blog. I also don't have a problem with a blogger who posts images to their blog from other sources, and even though they give full credit to their sources, their readers pin from their blog anyway. The bloggers have no control over that, and blogging about images from other, fully-credited sources, is standard practice.

I do have a major problem with a blogger posting images from other sources to their blog, and then pinning the image from their own blog when they clearly know the original source. This bugs me even if they've properly sourced the image on their blog, because this move is designed solely to drive traffic back to their own website by using someone else's beautifully photographed image. It's unethical.

And in that same vein, it's also unethical to post stolen images from other sources, either not source them or give a half-hearted sourcing attempt, and then invite people to pin the pictures. That's the problem I've encountered with this image, which I repinned anyway in order to demonstrate why I'm uncomfortable with this practice:

You'll notice that in the caption right there, Pinterest's embed code gives the source as the blog that this image was pinned from. The problem is that when you click through to this blog post, the blogger starts out with essentially a call to action to pin by saying "all apologies if your pinterest button bursts into flames- jk..not sorry haha". Then comes the parade of pictures, none of which are captioned, then comes the sourcing info at the very bottom. Just one of the sources listed is an actual link, and none specify which photo came from where. I'm not saying this blogger did this as a means to drive traffic; it quite honestly could just be a lack of knowledge on internet and blogging etiquette.

Or it could just be that I'm the only one who's really concerned with the ethics behind Pinterest. But I'm sure there's a photographer or crafter out there somewhere who appreciates my zeal.
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