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An Algorithm To Stop Joke Plagiarists 128

Bennett Haselton writes: The comedy world crucified Josh "Fat Jew" Ostrovsky for building his career on re-tweeting other people's jokes without attribution. But Twitter, or whichever company rises as their successor, could easily implement an algorithm that could stop plagiarists from building a following, while still rewarding joke writers who come up with original content. Read on for Bennett's take on how such a system could work.

The basic algorithm is very similar to the random-sample-voting algorithm that I've advocated as a way to stop vote manipulation on Digg, how to handle abuse reports in a scalable way on Twitter and on Facebook, and how to identify the best ideas submitted to the White House's "We The People" petition site. The algorithm can be used to rate the best jokes (at least according to the average rating of users, not according to some Platonic ideal), while still flagging plagiarized jokes and preventing anyone from building up a following by using them.

Under the algorithm, suppose a subset of users -- let's say, 1 million -- signs up to receive tweets in the general humor category. When a would-be amateur comedian comes up with a funny tweet, then in addition to tweeting it to their followers (if they have any), they can submit it to the humor category generally. The joke is first pushed to the feeds of, say, 1,000 randomly selected users, who have the option of rating it (independently of each other, without seeing the opinions of other raters). Once the joke has acquired enough ratings to constitute a statistically significant sample -- so that the average rating really does reflect the community's "opinion" of the joke -- then the joke gets released into the general pool of jokes available to all 1 million users subscribed to the "humor" category. Those users can decide what threshold of quality they want to set for the jokes that show up in their feed -- for example, if you only want to see jokes that got an average rating of 9 out of 10 or higher, you might only see 50 a day, but if you can lower your standards down to an 8, you might see 100 or 200. And if a user really likes a particular joke that they see in their "threshold feed," they can browse the other jokes in that author's Twitter feed and decide whether to follow them.

So if your joke sucks, it will only end up wasting the time of about 1,000 people, but if it gets a high rating, it will be available in the feeds of up to 1 million people. Thus from the user's point of view, only about 0.1% of the jokes that they see in their feed, are sucky jokes that were pushed to them as part of an initial "focus group" to measure their quality; the other 99.9% is made up of jokes that met whatever threshold they set for the average rating.

As I've stressed in the case of other applications of the random-sample-voting algorithm, this system is scalable, because the number of available reviewers grows as the community grows. It's also non-gameable -- because the raters are randomly selected, even if you create a large number of zombie accounts to try and upvote your own joke, the zombies won't constitute a significant portion of the raters, if the raters are selected from the entire pool of 1 million users.

Still, even under this system, it would be possible to take a highly rated joke and re-word it slightly (to fool any text filters looking for blatant copy-and-paste jobs), and pass it off as your own, hoping that your re-worded version will also get pushed out to a wide audience and net you some extra followers. To prevent this, you can implement a "duplicate" flagging feature that also relies on the random-sample-voting system:

  1. If a user recognizes a joke as a re-worded version of someone else's tweet, they can flag it as a "duplicate", with a link to the earlier tweet that they think is similar. (Flagging it as intentional "plagiarism" would be a bit harsh, since it's quite common for multiple comedians to come up with the same joke.)
  2. The flagged joke, along with a copy of the earlier joke, would once again be sent out to a random sample of subscribers to the humor category, who are then asked to vote on whether the two jokes are substantially similar.
  3. If a statistically significant majority of those users vote that the two jokes are essentially duplicates, then the second tweet gets displayed with a flag icon (shorthand for "our users have identified this as a duplicate of an earlier joke") with a link back to other tweet that was identified as an earlier version of essentially the same joke.
  4. If a majority votes that the two jokes are not similar, then nothing happens. Optionally, if an overwhelming majority of the users vote that the two jokes are not at all similar, then some kind of reputation point penalty could be applied to the user who flagged the second joke as a "duplicate". This discourages people from frivolously duplicate-flagging a joke.

This does have the unfortunate result that if you unintentionally write a joke that duplicates someone else's, it will still end up with the "duplicate" flag after users recognize the similarity to the earlier version. This is, however, something that I don't think any algorithm can solve, because it's impossible to detect the difference between someone copying another person's joke and independently coming up with it on their own. A comedian whose joke ends up being labeled with the "duplicate flag", just because someone else came up with the same gag first, could leave the joke in their feed, but they might consider the duplicate flag to be a mild embarrassment.

On the other hand, if you're just a full-time plagiarist like the Fat Jew, and virtually all of your jokes end up being flagged as clones of other people's work, then your entire feed will be littered with "duplicate" flags that mark you as a hack. Depending on whether Twitter's terms of service prohibit serial plagiarism, your account could even get suspended.

Meanwhile, anybody could still set themselves up as a curator who re-tweets other people's jokes with the original attribution intact. Many users would find that they wouldn't need curators at all, when they can just subscribe to all jokes that get an average rating of, say, 8.5 or higher, but if your humor happens to align very closely with the kind of jokes picked out by a particular curator, you could subscribe to get jokes re-tweeted directly from them. And since the original attribution would be intact, any time you saw a joke that you really liked, you could subscribe to updates directly from that author. Curating can still serve a valuable function that plagiarism does not.

In addition to dealing with plagiarists, though, what I think is interesting about this system is how it would overturn everything we know about what it takes to build a reputation. In the current ecosystem, to build a following, it helps to have good content, but what really matters is hustle -- making friends in high places who might be able to give you a boost with a re-tweet or a shout-out, looking out for opportunities for free publicity, etc. Well, I admire the people who have the energy to keep that up. But from an economic standpoint, "hustling" is a non-productive activity, because it doesn't actually make your content better, it's just an attempt to crowd out someone else's content with your own, which may be better or worse, and it's a zero-sum game. The "hustling" ecosystem is also non-optimal from the user's point of view -- if Joe is better at writing jokes, but Bob is better at hustling, then you as the user are more likely to be exposed to Bob's sub-optimal content, and may never even hear about Joe.

The random-sample rating system, however, makes the entire notion of "hustling" obsolete. The only way to get your content in front of lots of people, is to write content that gets a high average rating from the initial sample of people who see it.

If such a system ever gets implemented, by Twitter or any other company, maybe the Fat Jew can find out if any of his own original material meets the bar. But don't hold your breath -- the marquee joke currently displayed on his Twitter feed is "You can't get an STD if you never get tested."

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An Algorithm To Stop Joke Plagiarists

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 10, 2015 @12:15PM (#50495577)

    Guess I was wrong.

    Sad, really.

  • by gweilo8888 ( 921799 ) on Thursday September 10, 2015 @12:28PM (#50495737)
    ...which could be used to prevent the same story from appearing on Slashdot FIVE FREAKING TIMES with a few word changes to get it past the moderators.

    Seriously, it says it right there in the summary: This is "very similar to the random-sample-voting algorithm that I've advocated as a way to stop vote manipulation on Digg, how to handle abuse reports in a scalable way on Twitter and on Facebook, and how to identify the best ideas submitted to the White House's "We The People" petition site".

    And by "very similar", he means "basically the same". Enough, already!
    • by khasim ( 1285 )

      We should implement Haselton's stupid idea then!

      EVERY story should be emailed to 1,000 /. users who will ignore it and hope that they will do the research necessary to find if it is a dupe or similar enough to something that they will remember and care enough to link to so that SOMEONE ELSE can check that it is valid before releasing it.

      Bennett Haselton has, once again, come up with an idiot "solution" to a problem that does not exist and and he expects free labour from THOUSANDS of people will solve this p

  • by JustAnotherOldGuy ( 4145623 ) on Thursday September 10, 2015 @12:33PM (#50495797)

    "Stuff that matters" indeed.

  • by willworkforbeer ( 924558 ) on Thursday September 10, 2015 @12:37PM (#50495845)
    This, because, you know... nothing of importance is left to do in the world.

    Somebody once said -- We ran out of real problems when we started buying a spray for 'static cling'

    Waiting for the book release "Earth, Life, and Everything : Mission Accomplished"
  • by Ecuador ( 740021 ) on Thursday September 10, 2015 @12:39PM (#50495883) Homepage

    Slashdot is filled with lousy posts nowadays, so I am used to crap, I just go quickly through them without even noticing the submitter. But, every time time there is a Bennett one, I immediatelly look up to verify the submitter after just having read two sentences. How does he do it? How is his crap so distinctive as to be instantly recognized? What kind of algorithm could detect if a piece of text was written by Bennett to filter it out of our internet?

  • tl:dr (Score:5, Informative)

    by AndyKron ( 937105 ) on Thursday September 10, 2015 @12:40PM (#50495905)
    TL:DR
  • we've all heard this joke before

  • I got a joke for you (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 10, 2015 @12:47PM (#50495973)

    Did you hear the one about the Bennett Haselton post that wasn't tedious bullshit?

    Me neither.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by penguinoid ( 724646 )

      Hm, no attribution. If only there was an algorithm to detect whether this joke were plagiarized.

  • by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Thursday September 10, 2015 @12:49PM (#50495991)

    How do you find Will Smith in the snow?

    You look for the fresh prints.

    Originally told by Ugg the caveman, with minor changes along the millennia.

    • How do you find Will Smith in the snow?

      When I first heard this, I answered "He'll be the man in black [wikipedia.org]" before I heard the punchline.

      Certainly easier than recognizing foot prints. Black clothing really stands out in the snow.

  • by mykepredko ( 40154 ) on Thursday September 10, 2015 @12:54PM (#50496035) Homepage

    Hasn't comedy *always* been the domain of people stealing jokes with the successful people being able to fit them into their own styles with their own humour?

    It's not like stand up comedians like:
    - Rodney Dangerfield
    - Joan Rivers
    - George Carlin
    - Jerry Sienfeld
    didn't have their jokes repeated endlessly as well as use other people's jokes as part of their career. I have seen all four listed above live and they all did jokes that I've heard from Groucho Marx, WC Fields, Abbot & Costello and others (who probably stole them originally).

    It's a hard living and even if you are successful you have to deal with the likes of parasites like Josh Ostrovsky and Jackie Martling while finding other people's jokes and routines that fit into your persona and act.

    It's a circle of life thing.

    • by Higaran ( 835598 )
      Who's on first?
    • This!

      If I steal a funny joke, and retell it and it sucks, it is likely my fault.

      Which reminds me of a joke I heard as a kid:

      A young guy walks into a Comedian convention, and there is a guy on stage. He listens to the guy for a minute, "Three" and the crowd laughs hysterically. "Twenty Seven", and the crowd laughs even harder. He asks on of the other attendees what's so funny.

      The other attendee says "We've heard all the jokes before, so instead of telling jokes, we have numbered them. #Three was really funny

    • by T.E.D. ( 34228 )

      Hasn't comedy *always* been the domain of people stealing jokes

      It was a running gag on the old Milton Berle shows that he'd steal anything funny a guest said.

    • Most of the time when you hear more than one comic tell the same joke its a case of convergent evolution. Only the scummiest of comics actively steal other's jokes and they tend to get ostracized for it.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    • by Anonymous Coward

      It can't be that good, or you would be using it, and then not know to post this.

  • by mishehu ( 712452 ) on Thursday September 10, 2015 @01:14PM (#50496245)
    Seriously, Slashdot should look into the development of such a system...
  • If a user recognizes a joke as a re-worded version of someone else's tweet, they can flag it as a "duplicate", with a link to the earlier tweet that they think is similar. (Flagging it as intentional "plagiarism" would be a bit harsh, since it's quite common for multiple comedians to come up with the same joke.)

    So we're expecting one sample of 1000 people to overlap with another sample of 1000 people AND that they will read and remember enough of the jokes to mark it as plagarism? If that's not what is assumed then one could still surely still game the system and harvest jokes that (effectively) nobody has seen by making multiple accounts and stealing all the best jokes that only 1000 people see....

    • by TheCarp ( 96830 )

      No, not even close.

      You are picking random samples of 1000, filtering through them, and then broadcasting to the whole group, and iterating. So you are not assuming overlap between the filter groups, you are assuming the filter group is representative of the people who saw the output of the last filter group.

      Also they are marking similarity not just plagerism, and when they do, going through a metafilter process to judge the similarity.

      Aside from the fact that I don't give two shits about joke reuse (or the

      • Why have a top-down metafilter? Maybe 1% of Twitter users fancy themselves as comics, why not write a script where the user decides to check for plagiarism by searching for their tweet keywords/key phrases, and provide a method to protest if they've had one stolen. Much more elegant; only those who are wronged are using the resources needed to catch the joke thieves.

        Look at that Bennett, a better solution using 1/100th of the space. Call me Bizarro Bennett.

  • As Usual (Score:4, Informative)

    by Sarten-X ( 1102295 ) on Thursday September 10, 2015 @01:24PM (#50496365) Homepage

    Yet again, Bennett Haselton inspires us with a short-sighted solution, having never considered whether his system will actually work.

    1. If a user recognizes a joke as a re-worded version of someone else's tweet, they can flag it as a "duplicate", with a link to the earlier tweet that they think is similar.

    Right there in step 1 is the problem. By requiring a link to a sentence someone read months ago, the burden on the user is raised unacceptably. Users won't bother policing when it's difficult, unless the case is severe enough to stir up an outrage - which would already result in more damage than just flagging a user's tweets.

    Of course, the potential for abuse is also high. Changing a single word can parody an original post, yet changing a different single word may not avoid plagiarizing. An automated algorithm won't likely be able to tell the difference, so it will fall to manual effort to identify which flagged duplicates are actually malicious. In context, even an identical phrase may be making a very different statement, so taking the tweet out of context for manual review makes false positives very likely.

    Shakespeare plagiarized. Plato plagiarized. Tom Lehrer penned many verses praising plagiarism. The bottom line is that plagiarism goes hand-in-hand with creation, and it should always be evaluated only in the entire context of both works - the plagiarizing and the plagiarized. What is being said is often not what's being written.

    • Right there in step 1 is the problem. By requiring a link to a sentence someone read months ago, the burden on the user is raised unacceptably. Users won't bother policing when it's difficult, unless the case is severe enough to stir up an outrage - which would already result in more damage than just flagging a user's tweets.

      Well yes, that's correct, if nobody ever notices the duplication, then the plagiarizer won't get caught. But that's not a flaw in the algorithm because I think that's an unsolvable problem -- if nobody ever notices the similar jokes, there's nothing anyone can do. What my algorithm ensures is that if just one person notices the plagiarized joke, then at least it will get flagged (and after it's flagged, the random-sample-vote determines whether it really is a duplicate). If the original joke-writer and t

  • Use enough discretion to determine when a joke is original, and when it's not. Then ignore accordingly.
    • Recipe for evading charges of joke plagiarization: change the priest, the rabbi, and the gay guy to random strings of characters containing at least one each of capital letters, small letters, numerals, and punctuation signs.
      For example, "A 6Yuiosd*g, a gjk9%er22, and a ((twlCVS9 walk into a bar..."
  • by turp182 ( 1020263 ) on Thursday September 10, 2015 @01:29PM (#50496401) Journal

    I have to assume this entire story occurred because Slashdot hasn't been sold from Dice.

    I made an attempt to start a conversation about the community purchasing the site, but it languished in the Firehose (it got the right color, and fast, but not the posting):
    http://slashdot.org/submission... [slashdot.org]

    Either Dice is compensating Bennet for inane commentary, or Bennet is paying Dice to have a platform from which to speak, inanely.

  • by ttucker ( 2884057 ) on Thursday September 10, 2015 @01:33PM (#50496439)

    "Read on for Bennett's take on how such a system could work."

    Yuck.

  • The real article starts something like,
    "The Slashdot world crucified Bennet "Disconnected from Reality" Haselton for building his career on writing nonsense about other people's unimportant situations expecting attribution."

  • by Anonymous Coward

    This would reward Joke thieves

    Or at least the ones who stole their jokes from somewhere other than Twitter. Say I tell a joke my comedy routine. Some other guy then steals my joke and puts it on twitter. Then later, I post it on twitter. Now my joke gets credited to him. Unless I make twitter my primary platform, this makes the situation worse.

    • You could add a feature to flag a joke as a duplicate of content that's hosted somewhere else, and provide the link.

      The problem is that because the content is hosted somewhere other than Twitter, someone could create the content on a third-party site, back-date it to look like it was published before the tweet, and then claim that the tweet was a ripoff of their joke.
  • Fails to account for the fact that no-one will "flag as duplicate" because it requires effort - pretty significant effort actually - and there's no reward.

    The only "joke" here is that this total waste of time post made it onto Slashdot and wasted my time. I'm not laughing though.

    • Well quite a few people "flagged" the Fat Jew, despite their actions requiring much more manual effort than I'm proposing here.

      And quite a few people post ratings on product sites and participate in peer ratings systems in other ways, without any direct compensation. Heck you didn't get anything for posting this comment but you did it anyway.
  • Not really. Actually, I haven't ever heard about this guy before today.

    I just wanted to feel special for a moment. Because there is not even a single comment (out of 58) showing any kind of appreciation for that guy!!
    • Not really. Actually, I haven't ever heard about this guy before today. I just wanted to feel special for a moment. Because there is not even a single comment (out of 58) showing any kind of appreciation for that guy!!

      Unfortunately that's "special" as in "special needs".

      • It was a joke, apparently a bit too difficult for you. Sorry for not having written a simple enough set of ideas suitable for readers of any "background". Please, feel free to ask me anything you need to know; also I will try to avoid complex ideas/humour and use as simple words/concepts as I can.
  • I propose we call these categories "hashtags", and we can use a special character, like say the pound sign to designate that a tweet is intended for that category.

    When the subset of users interested in moderating this category approve the worthiness of a tweet, they can signal their approval by forwarding it on to all of their followers. We could call this a "retweet". The cool thing about this idea is that not everyone's sense of humor matches up, so individual users can perhaps set themselves up somehow

  • Has B.H. ever responded to these allegations of being a boring choad or does he revel in his choadliness in complete silence?
  • Is this a joke? Can I repeat it?
  • ...an algorithm to stop Bennett drivel.

  • I know slashdot views everything on social networks as trivial but social networks need content creators like comics to function. New content keeps people tuned in and checking for updates. Content creators post content for self promotion. Comics do it to raise their profile and get people to physical shows. If someone can just plagiarize it and not attribute it to the comic to the point where they drown you out this defeats the whole reason they post it. I'm a no-name comic (and a software developer) but
    • It makes me not want to bother posting my jokes. Now I'm not important but if more famous people feel the same way or it becomes a trend then it is a problem for a social network's business.

      If you haven't noticed, working comics generally don't post material they'd want to use because of this issue. Kelly Oxford used to post funny stuff, then she got a job writing comedy, and now her twitter feed is mostly boring.

      Save your jokes for the crowd, you won't know if they work until you say them on stage anyways (speaking from experience).

      • If you already have a following you don't have to self promote that hard. Still though plenty of comics post one liners on twitter and facebook and it gets them followers.
  • Windows 10's "telemetry" will send everything you type to Microsoft-controlled servers. Jim Stone speculates that "the tribe" is using this as a method to obtain everything everyone writes, to use for their purposes.

    To now see a story about a "Fat Jew" who is stealing other people's jokes -- he could have saved a lot of his time and effort if he just subscribed to Microsoft's offering to the tribe.

  • ...One plagiarist orders a "Pink Mary". The second plagiarist says, "I too will have a Pink Mary". The first plagiarist then asks for Saltine crackers. "I too will have Saltine crackers", says the second plagiarist.

    The first plagiarist turns to the second plagiarist in disgust and asks, "Why do you keep copying me?"

    "Well, because I injured my foot, and [punchline censored by plagiarism software]

  • Why not copyright original insults. They can be directed to a subset of the offended group for rating, and then follow Hasselton's scheme. Any AC insults from this site that are passed on without retribution would be sent to Hasselton directly. Then he can repost them as Hassetons, a class of stolen insults.

  • I hereby patent the joke, i.e. a textual utterance or written work which involves one or more persons or animals or other objects which are portrayed in certain circumstances as indulging in behavior and/or speech which is intended to evoke a response of humor in the listener or reader. I have my lawyers ready to police this aggressively.
  • "The comedy world crucified Josh "Fat Jew" Ostrovsky for building his career on re-tweeting other people's jokes without attribution."
    ironically, that's the actual true story of what happened to Jesus.

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