Social websites are latest sources for plagiarized material

Harrick advised demonstrating how easily students can be caught plagiarizing at the start of the school year.

Plagiarism is going social, according to, which found that one-third of plagiarized material in student papers can be traced to social networking, content sharing, or question-and-answer websites. offers software that checks student papers against a vast database of prior works and the internet at large, looking for matches that can indicate possible plagiarism. An analysis of the top sources of matched content flagged by the software reveals a significant shift in the last few years, the company says—from so-called “term paper mills” to social sites and homework help sites.

While social networking and content sharing sites accounted for the highest percentage of all matched content, one-quarter of all matched materials came from legitimate educational websites, the company said—many of which use “.org” or “.gov” domain names. These sites often include pages dedicated to helping students complete their homework or prepare for tests.

The results of the company’s analysis reveal a change in habits as students increasingly turn to online sources for help with class assignments. They also indicate a need for students to learn better research skills, including what makes a source legitimate and how to cite their sources properly.

Social Q&A sites are “what [students are] comfortable with,” said Turnitin’s Chris Harrick. Many students think that if “someone says this on Yahoo! Answers, then it must be a credible source; or they sound smart, so it must be true. That doesn’t hold water in the academic world, and as they get into higher levels of education, those sources are not going to be accepted by an instructor.”

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