The Pinterest Mentality

I’m not knocking Pinterest. (Please, no hate mail.) The tool is not really the problem. The mentality of how people thoughtlessly and mechanically use this tool IS the problem.


[CC licensed photo “3D Broken Copyright” by]


Many of us work really diligently to teach our students to be digitally literate: navigate digital environments, think critically, access and analyze digital information, and produce creative and relative digital content.

Part of digital literacy also includes digital citizenship and understanding intellectual and creative property of digital content. You see a photo online? Someone took that photo, and THAT person owns the rights to that photo. You do not have the right to use that digital photo. Same thing with music, art work, writing… we know this. It’s not okay to use someone else’s work without explicit permission. Even WITH permission, there are still  restrictions on how and when you can use that work.

Creative Commons provides licensed work (photos, music, video, etc.)  with options to use freely. **If you don’t already know about Creative Commons – take time to do so.  I license a lot of my photos and even this blog with a Creative Commons license. Feel free to share, but be sure to post proper attribution. (The photo in this post is a Creative Commons photo with attribution specific to how the creator wanted to be credited.)

So, back to Pinterest. Pinterest is that tool that allows you to easily (too easily, in my opinion) curate sites you want to save: recipes, fashion, quotes… you name it. When you save a pin, it scans the website for all photos to use as the “face” of that pin. In the case of a photo, the photo itself is saved as the pin, but the OWNER’s information is not saved with the pin.

And then the photo is repinned. And repinned again. And repinned again. The 500th person to repin that pin may or may not have access to the original site where that photo was posted. There is absolutely NO trace back to the owner.

Two years ago, I found on Pinterest an education poster that I wanted to revise and use in my classroom. I spent DAYS trying to track down the original creator of the poster to no avail. You can read my post about the need for ATTRIBUTION and the rest of that story here.

To this date, I still do not know who created that poster. 

And guess what? My version of that poster- the one that I drew based on that original poster? Now MY POSTER is being shared, reshared, and pinned without attribution. We are two levels deep in sharing without properly crediting the work that was created.

This is the Pinterest Mentality. We don’t even think. We pin. We retweet. We don’t stop to make sure that someone’s intellectual and creative property is respected enough to ask permission to use OR even to include the creator’s name with the work. And I hate to even type this, but educators are some of the worst offenders. Fair Use does not exempt us from all copyright restrictions. “It’s for education” is not an excuse.

Pinterest (and tools like it) makes it really easy to ignore the owner of the “work” being pinned… but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

If you teach your students not to plagiarize, they should also be learning that they can’t use creative works without permission. The adults need to learn this, too.

Model appropriate use and respect of the work of others. If you want to share something (or repin), be sure to add attribution somewhere in the description of what you’re sharing.

Digitally literate and respectful educators shouldn’t be the exception… we should be the norm.

One thought on “The Pinterest Mentality

  1. Great post, Michelle! While I 100% agree with you on the importance of teaching Best Practices to students as well as nudging our colleagues to be the best they can be, I wonder about the responsibility of platforms like Pinterest that host the content.

    In my mind, the most important issue here is protecting peoples’ property. Responsible use is also important though I believe it is in the service of this larger aim of protecting against theft. To that end, might it be more effective to hold Pinterest and similar services more accountable? (I’m reminded of the music industry having more success going after Napster and Limewire than individual infringers.)

    We have a responsibility to not steal. That said, a lot of people do so either through ignorance or justifications like you point out. This seems like a perfect place for technology to make the world a better place and reduce or eliminate the human-initiated problem.

    One idea specific to Pinterest: the service could prompt a Pinner with a popup asking whether the content is original and, if not, require a link to the original content that then travels anywhere in the cloud that the content does. Similarly, Google could integrate a function on Docs and Slides that adds an attribution banner to any image inserted using the native image search function in their products (forcing users who do not provide attribution to make the conscious choice to cut it out). In the near future, I could also see there being a Block Chain solution to this enormous problem.

    Thanks for this post and for raising our awareness of this important issue!

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