21st Century Problems

I love old things, but I’ve never been the type of person who wanted to live in the past (except for a few years in the early 60s when I wanted to be Mrs. Daniel Boone, but that’s another story).  Our young woman from 1909 had to live without a lot of things we take for granted:  safe and effective birth control, wide career opportunities, the right to vote…  But on the other hand, she did not have to grapple with one of the dilemmas of our day – to pin or not to pin.

I’ve been ambivalent about Pinterest from the first time I looked at it.   There were the obvious copyright concerns, but once I saw how the original source was automatically added when a pin was made, I was okay with it, especially since I was getting a lot of traffic from the site.

Then the funniest thing happened.  The traffic trickled to a dead stop.  I went from getting up to 50 hits a day from Pinterest to 9 in the past week.   A close examination of the site revealed that one of the major links to the original source had been removed, and while there was still a link embedded within each image, it was not spelled out on the page, and thus,  people were not clicking through to my blog and website.

I then went on a quest to see if my photos had been linked from other sources.  I was shocked and dismayed to find my photos linking back to other people’s Tumblr pages and other people’s blogs.  Sometimes there was a link to me, but very often, there was not.

But the biggest concern was not about my images, but about my writing.  I found whole chunks of text copied from fuzzylizzie.com attached to some of the photos.  I posted on all the photos, asking for the pinner to remove my text, and most have, but what about all the people who repinned my content?  It would have taken hours to have contacted them all.

So where is this leading?  I have installed the “Can’t be pinned” script to all pages on fuzzylizzie.com.  Yes, I know people can still save my image and pin it that way, but I really don’t think most people are going to take the time and trouble that is involved.  The problem is that the “Pin It” button is just so darned easy.  And if anyone can tell me how to put the “Can’t be pinned” script here on WordPress, I’d be most appreciative.  In the meantime, I’d really appreciate it if my photos and text are not posted on Pinterest, nor on Tumblr.

I  hesitated to take this action, mainly because I actually enjoyed using Pinterest.  But then it occurred to me – if I disliked other people randomly taking my work and posting it, then why was I doing the same to others.  So I went through and deleted anything that either was not mine, or was posted by someone I knew would not mind.  Even that did not quell my apprehension about Pintrest, so I ended up by deleting all my pins and boards.

This must sound pretty self-serving, and I do realize that the thing that made me sit up and take notice was the fact that my traffic from Pinterest had dropped so dramatically.  But once taking steps to end my trip down the Pinterest rabbit-hole, I’ve noticed a few more things.   On each individual pinned page there is an “embed” button.  There, automatically, is a simple way for anyone who sees my image to like it and plop it on their blog or tumblr.  In the script there is a link to the original source, which is easily removed, and which may or may not be the real source, as I pointed out above.

And I’m not going to get into the copyright issue, seeing as how I’m not qualified to analyze the Pinterest terms of use, but I do urge anyone who uses it to actually read and think about what the terms say are your, as the user, responsibilities.

Over the past few days I’ve read dozens of articles and blog posts from people who are concerned about how Pinterest is being used.  Most of them were about copyright concerns, but the most compelling thing I read was by Hila Shachar in her blog, Le Project d’amour.  She writes about how pinning and tumbling remove an image from its context.  As example, she sites a photo taken in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  It is of a hallway that is covered with the photographs of the inhabitants of one village, all of whom were killed by the German SS in 1941.  She has actually seen this photo on Pinterest under categories like “Home Decor” with captions talking about how cool it would be to have a photo-covered wall in one’s home.  You can bet that the repinners have no idea where this photo originates.

This is one of those issues where I don’t expect everyone to agree with me.  I know that most people who try it love it and don’t see the harm.  I say enjoy it as you will, but please be informed.  Read the terms of use.


Filed under Viewpoint

15 responses to “21st Century Problems

  1. I’ve avoided Pinterest for lots of reasons but this convinces me. Your article should be required reading for all my friends who are so in to Pinterest. Thanks.


  2. Lizzie – I’m so glad you addressed this, as it is indeed such a slippery slope. I have done my best whenever I pin to make sure that it actually links from its original source, but I can’t say with 100% certainty that they are all there. And you’re right, the context and the “whisper down the lane” of what things started to be and what they ended up being are completely different.

    We live in such quickly changing times for sure – I can only hope that we’re not just paddling around on the surface, but taking time to delve deeper into things!


  3. Barb

    I understand your concern, but I think most people do not intend to infringe or plagiarize – they just don’t know any better, which means education is the key.

    I, too, think everything is so much more interesting in context, and I always try to go back to the source for descriptions, except when, as another writer on this topic commented, the image speaks for itself, i.e. sunset, moonrise. For famous incidents or people, I always include as much as I know and I do as well for my photos of life in the past.

    I, however, think that Pinterest is an amazing tool for education. To think that some do not know Anne Frank is shocking, but better we, who do know, use this opportunity to teach and share. The same is true for images of things no longer able to be seen in our everyday life. I was shocked by my very well-educated son and his girlfriend, when talking about a clothes wringer, to find they did not know what one was. But the “aha” moment was amazing. They looked at each other with delight and related that they had always wondered where the expression, “Put through the wringer” came from.

    A lot of my followers are young, and actually take the time to comment on my pictures and descriptions, so I know they are reading and learning and that the history of our lives is being shared with another generation.

    I also think that there is a certain amount of reluctance to type out a lot of information, hence the ubiquitous period on so many images. Perhaps if it were better known that a pinner can highlight words on a webpage and they will automatically appear in the description box? I’ve not seen this mentioned anywhere.

    I also think that something may have changed in the way Pinterest manages links so that the original source is harder to find. I noticed this last week when suddenly there were boxes down below with more information on the boards pinned to and originally pinned from – but not that easy link to the original source. I intend to ask Pinterest about this.


  4. Oh, I agree that the idea of wrong-doing never enters the thoughts of most pinners. There is the prevalent idea that if it is on the Net, then it is copyright free. Odd, really, because I can’t imagine that this is not being taught in schools. In fact I know it is part of the curriculum in the school system in which I taught. My 5th graders were well informed about such matters. Whether or not they are connecting that knowledge to their own internet usage is the question!

    I’m actually glad that people don’t know of the highlighting feature you mentioned. I’d much rather people just take my photos than my writing!


    • Barb

      I have been pondering this troubling issue all night. Like you, I was taught very well about attribution to the source, hammered home when doing research in grad school. Whenever I use the highlighting, I always include quotes and the source.

      There are so many beautiful photographers whose work I would love to pin, but they ask that their work not be reproduced, so I never pin, just personally bookmark, but I know others repost their work in blogs. It’s the eternal conundrum of fame for artists. If you want your work to be known, it has to be widely distributed, but that means it is vulnerable to being stolen. An uneasy balance, indeed.

      I’m very glad you’ve raised this issue. I will be especially vigilant about my own pinning! I will really miss your presence and sensibility on Pinterest, but I will always follow you here and on FB.


  5. I have been thinking about joining Pinterest recently but am now having a re-think. I have had a very high level of Pinterest traffic from one particular blog pic of mine. The page views are still very high but I have noted that the Pinterest numbers are dropping, presumably for the very reason you cite. Interesting and I now feel more informed … thankyou for this. M


  6. I only recently joined Pinterest and am enjoying it a great deal, but it all is a bit concerning too. The area with copyright is so hazy, particularly since many of the photographs are already widespread in the public domain. It is a shame things aren’t linking back properly, as that is the main reason for bloggers and sellers to support the application – personally I always love what you post and have definitely pinned things from here, so it is a shame that you aren’t getting the traffic from that you should be.


  7. Aw, Lizzie–on a purely selfish level, I’ll miss pinning and Tumblr-ing your wonderful images! But I understand your feelings. I try my best to be a responsible user of both Pinterest and Tumblr, but I freely admit to having posted images that I could not find the source for. I do try, though. I agree that things are more interesting in context (and that’s a great tip, Barb, about highlighting the text–I didn’t know about it!), but I think there’s a general feeling of “ooo, look pretty pictures!” out there. Not that there’s anything wrong with that in itself. It’s actually what I really like about sites like Tumblr and Pinterest–scrapbooking for someone who doesn’t want to mess with paper and tape. But it does get tiresome when you see people openly ignore sources. I’ve had people take photos off my Flickr with no sourcing, which only bugs me because I have the Tumblr button enabled–with a click, you can share my photo (with its source) wherever you want! Why go the extra step of right-clicking and saving…just so there’s no source?


  8. Like you, I have seen my original images out there on Pinterest unsourced. This makes me want to ‘watermark’ my images, something mentioned in an earlier conversation. As for Pinterest itself, I do like my own pages, and I use them for reference when I want to look back for something later.
    On the subject of students, I know that mine think I ‘m obsessive and boring in demanding they credit their sources, so I’m afraid that our culture is swinging away from that time honored practice. It doesn’t seem like stealing to them, they view images as public once they are posted. Oddly, they don’t seem to mind watermarks at all, and will use images with them.


    • I’ve been tempted to watermark, but then if you’ve found that your students don’t seem to mind them, I’m wondering if it would do any good.

      A question for you as a teacher: I’ve read that some high school and college teachers actually google phrases from students’ work they feel might be plagiarized. Do you know if this is true? Seriously, I feel like my website has provided many a student with their assignments!


      • Do I google search phrases from research papers? hahaha, absolutely! (and I thought I was the only one doing this).
        If I want to get fancy, I can also use ‘turnitin.com’ which super filters for content theft.

        FYI–when I told my daughter today that I might start to watermark my blog photos, she warned me not to watermark the images I take from movies (she works in that industry, so she ought to know).


  9. I’d like to share another example, one that I thought about including in the post, but then it was getting to be too long.

    There is a popular vintage photo on Pinterest of a marchioness carrying an Enid Collins handbag. The original blogger who posted the photo clearly marked the name of the woman and the source of the photo. But after making the Pinterest circuit, the photo caption has now been shortened to just “Enid.” This tends to imply that the woman in the photo is herself Enid Collins. This is the type of information disconnect that disturbs me.

    (Thanks, Betty!)


  10. Pingback: The Vintage Traveler Goes to College | The Vintage Traveler

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