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Imitation might be the highest form of flattery, but some legal blogs appear to have taken that imitation a bit too far -- by scraping content from prominent blogs and reposting it on their own.
Is this just part of doing business on the interwebs? Maybe. But these alleged fakes could also have real consequences.
It's not uncommon for the contents of websites to be taken by others, whether they're web scrapers, plagiarists, or just enthusiastic sharers. That counts for blogs, too, and even legal blogs, and it happens routinely even when a website's terms of service prohibit it.
Take, for example, the recent revelations from Robert Ambrogi, whose LawSites blog covers legal tech and products. He recently wrote about how his content would often show up on other purported lawyers' blogs. "I have five very loyal followers of this blog," he writes. "Three are lawyers, one is a legal secretary and one is a legal assistant. They reblog everything I post onto their blogs and Tweet some of what I post on their Twitter feeds."
Great! Everyone likes engaged readers, right?
But there's a catch. "The problem is, they appear not to be real," Ambrogi says.
Lately, these five separate blogs have all started reposting everything I post. They always do it in unison, within a minute or two of each other. Their blogs clearly were all created by the same person or persons, using essentially the same page layout and nearly identical list of links to their other supposed social media accounts.
Ambrogi did a little snooping and couldn't find any actual lawyers or legal secretaries that matched the rebloggers -- but he did discover that the rebloggers' images matched that of a endodontist in Arizona and an L.A. man going by "lonelykelvin1" on a personal's website. (Side bar: is it ever a good idea to describe yourself as lonely on a singles website? My guess is no.)
How's this reblogging work? One blog, the one with the endodontist's photo, contains a series of posts that are just the beginning lines of content from Above the Law. The content links back to the Above the Law source, but also states that it was "syndicated" from another, more legit-seeming lawyer blog. Other blogs also appear connected to real-life law firms, Ambrogi says.
There are a couple of reasons why this is troubling. First, as Ambrogi posits, legal consumers could be deceived by fake accounts and possibly harmed as a result.
Second, the blogs seem like they might be a link farming effort -- an attempt to up one's Google rank by creating in-bound links from other sites. But, that's bad SEO. While link farms might have tricked search engines a decade ago, they're pretty easy for Google to spot now, and when Google finds them, your page rank suffers.
Further, Google doesn't like duplicative content, meaning that the borrowed language on the questionable blogs might be doing them more harm than good.
As of now, though, no one is sure who is behind the blogs, or why. They could be innocuous. They could be run by Putin. We may never know.
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