Something Else to Blame on Facebook & Wikipedia: Plagiarism

For most college students, the end of the spring semester is fast approaching. The push is on to prepare for final exams and to write paper on paper on paper. The Internet has made doing so both easier — students need go no further than their dorm rooms to research their library’s databases — but it’s also made plagiarizing parts or all of written assignments too easy and too empty: So long as you know how to cut and paste text and “doctor” it up a bit with a synonym here and there, you can churn out those essay assignments with no problem.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that college students are increasingly turning to social media sites like Facebook to plagiarize papers. It’s a finding that is no real surprise; these days, Facebook (and texting) seem to be main, if not the only, way a lot of students communicate with each other.

The study was released by iParadigms, the creator of the widely used anti-plagiarism-detection service Turnitin. Papers uploaded to Turnitin‘s databases are analyzed to find unoriginal content. 

For the study, iParadigms analyzed 40 million papers that high school and college students submitted over a 10-month period. Here’s what the study found, as noted in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

  • One-third of all “matched content” comes from social-networking and content-sharing sites like Facebook, Myspace, Scribd, SlideShare, Yahoo Answers, and
  • Legitimate education sites account for one-quarter of all copying. Popular sources included the National Institutes of Health site,;; and test-prep and homework-help sites like Course Hero and BookRags.
  • To researchers’ surprise, paper mills and cheat sites accounted for only 15 percent of matches. In this category, Turnitin includes sites like and
  • Over all, the top eight sites for matched content were Wikipedia, Yahoo Answers,, SlideShare,, Scribd, Course Hero, and

The Chronicle of Higher Education notes one caveat:

Turnitin detects “matched content,” not necessarily plagiarism. In other words, the software will flag material from a paper mill, but it will also flag legitimate stuff that is properly cited and attributed. The company leaves it up to individual professors to determine plagiarism. So there’s no way to know exactly how much of the copying highlighted in this study, outside of the material that matches content from shady sites, is actually cheating.

The findings from the iParadigms study do cohere with my own experiences in detecting plagiarized papers. Most students help themselves to the seemingly infinite store of free information and text out there on the web, rather than spending money to purchase a completed essay. Copying from sites like Wikipedia is quite rampant.

After twenty years of reading college students’ papers, I’ve something of an idea of when a paper just doesn’t seem to be in the “voice” of a student. A little Google-searching often produces the site the student has copied text from after which it’s time to confront the student, with his or her paper and a print-out of the plagiarized site in hand.

There are ways to create essay assignments that make plagiarism from website very difficult. Knowing that students are swapping ideas and essays via Facebook sometimes makes me think, time to go back to in-class writing assignments with students using good old-fashioned ballpoint pens or even pencils and, yes, paper.

Photo by the author.


Cindy Richardson
Cindy Richardson5 years ago

I agree that the internet, facebook, myspace or any other web site is not the problem. Plagiarizers know what they are doing and they know it is wrong however, they have no consience (sp), no morals, no self respect and no honor.

Stefanie D.
Stefanie D.6 years ago

cont'd from below:

Just a simple DISCUSSION in social circles will often INCLUDE KNOWN 'answer' works by others; and if the 'answers discussed' happen to make the most sense, IT BEARS REPEATING as a RESPONSE for any assignment. This avoids the RISK of DEVIATING from the answer in any creative thinking, where it may actually DEFY conventional answers, and be penalized with a less than ideal answer. ORIGINAL THINKING is useless, if it does not REALLY offer a BETTER SOLUTION. So, CONFORMANCE thinking is the only way to get a 'good mark', so why not just 'agree' with a similar answer matching what's already 'out there' (this may only look like plagiarism on the surface when it is just pragmatic conformance)!!!???

Stefanie D.
Stefanie D.6 years ago

Greatest crime is not learning from access of the 'answers' out there on the web, but that learning from finding the required 'answers' via access from prohibitively inaccessible TEXTBOOKS remain often UNAVAILABLE anywhere, even on the web. this is outrageous, in our day and age, ALL educational material should completely be OPEN SOURCE and FREE; without which education starts to become purely a cash cow for those in the educational ivory towers, only for the privilege few. Young folks should no longer be required to find 'answers' in a vacuum, which their University/College level courses (lectures, etc) are very close to being today. I can remember my University days where the required reading were from NON-TEXT books found only in the library, where they would only have 1 to 5 copies at most, and this would be for a CLASSROOM of 100 students... SUFFICE it to say, I could never find a copy of the reading to ever do my assignments... meaning, MOST had to get by... winging it without reading the material REQUIRED, or by chance, finding a COPY of the passages from that book from other students, or at worst, someone elses assignment done in a prior year or semester. We're in the 21st Century, good thing... young folks can STILL learn by accessing others materials for 'answers'. Plagiarism is hardly the problem, if the 'answer' is always the 'same' (or minor variations of it). Just a simple DISCUSSION in social circles will often INCLUDE KNOWN 'answer' works by others; and

K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Rosie Lopez
Rosie Lopez6 years ago


Roxana C.
Roxana Cortijo6 years ago

I think that these are just different tools which simplify the search for information. The problem is when students don't even read this info and just copy/paste it. This needs to be changed and, as someone said in the comments, teachers should be able to spot this behavior and implement ways to stop it.

Rosa Cruz
Rosa Cruz6 years ago

people who are willing to plagiarise will do so with whatever means they have at their disposal.

this is not an internet problem, it's an ethics problem.

it may be getting worse (because it is somehow easier to copy paste with a computer than it was back in the day you had to type it directly on paper), but the bottom line is on lack of ethic values... people sadly don't realise they are stealing somebody else's intellectual work - or are OK with it...

Lynnette Bower
Lynnette Bower6 years ago

Back in the days before computers this was a problem. It's not the internet, it's the lack of honor and integrity that is the problem.

Suzen R.
Suzen R6 years ago

It is just a tool. To blame facebook for anything is sort of silly. Those who plagiarize are going to use whatever tool they can access. It did not cause they to do this. A plagiarizer will use whatever they can use to do that. Before we have this technology most plagiarizers would not get caught.

Jane P.
Jane Ponder6 years ago

This problem was around long before someone came up with Facebook.