After posting this question here, I figured out how to view the moderator's comment to my answer, but I still haven't managed to view any of the other comments to the answer of mine I'm talking about. (From my profile, "deleted recent answers" brings me to the question but not my answer.)

On security.SE, I posted this answer on this question (10k rep required on Security.SE) to a question that later got migrated to crypto.SE.

At least one, probably two or more, commenters to it accused me of it being plagiarism.

After I was pointed to this answer and saw the phrase "any copying and pasting" in it, I edited my answer to attribute the zero-width spaces to an old version of that Wikipedia article, since they were the only things in that answer which I took from anywhere else. (The six quotation marks were just scare quotes.) Admittedly, I did not and do not remember which version of the article I copied them from. After that (I'm pretty sure it was more than 24 hours after that edit), a moderator deleted that answer and left a comment saying I was refusing to attribute.

I could not reply to that comment there, so I asked on one of that moderator's answers whether I needed to quote the zero-width spaces, as well as asking something (I forget exactly what) along the lines of "Should I not use scare quotes?".

When I didn't get a response for a tiny bit over 48 hours, I reminded the moderator on a different one of that moderator's answers. Subsequently, someone other than me deleted those two comments.

When they're the only thing I took from anywhere else, do I need to quote zero-width spaces rather than just providing attribution for them once at the top of my post?

When I don't remember which version I originally copied something from, should I just pick one of them to link to rather than linking to the whole list of versions?

Should I avoid scare quotes when I'm also quoting content from somewhere else?

Should I avoid scare quotes when I'm also acknowledging content from somewhere else without quoting that content?

  • 4
    A single character doesn't qualify as creative work, and thus doesn't need to be attributed.
    – Undo
    Mar 11 '16 at 5:35
  • 7
    I have no idea what the context is, but this question makes no sense and all links are dead. It is either a failed attempt at humour (sorry), a childish "revenge-post", or an attempt to avoid the issue at hand by moving the goalposts and strawmanning. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and I'll assume the first option, but if you're going to bring things up at meta.SE, then at least make sure that people at meta.SE can actually understand what it's about. Otherwise it seems to make that it makes little sense to bring things up here... Mar 11 '16 at 15:27
  • 3
    @Carpetsmoker Only a moderator on Information Security can know the full context since it involves deleted comments (and perhaps flags). Ricky posted everything that he could post, it's not his fault that the context isn't accessible to most people here. Mar 11 '16 at 15:57
  • 6
    @Gilles If the OP wanted more "eyes"/second opinions/advice/etc. then that's fine. But this question makes no sense as it doesn't contain a coherent sequence of events (according to the OP) and is merely a vague rambling about spaces and scare quotes -- this is almost certainly a misrepresentation of what actually happened. Mar 11 '16 at 16:00
  • Emulated mobile screenshot of this very question: i.stack.imgur.com/NjFDv.png - others are quite right to point out that the formatting here is less than ideal. Honestly, if you posted something like this on a site I was active on, I'd immediately edit it to remove all the formatting. Also check out the revision history. It can't diff your edits cleanly: meta.stackexchange.com/posts/276770/revisions
    – Cascabel
    Mar 11 '16 at 19:10
  • 1
    @Gilles: (Well, if I'd known the links I gave wouldn't work, then I could've linked to screenshots instead. Otherwise, you're right about that being everything I could post.)
    – user232555
    Mar 11 '16 at 22:44
  • The answer in question: Why haven't we proven many things computationally secure yet?
    – cat
    Mar 14 '16 at 16:42
  • my flag on said answer (at the top of the history): security.stackexchange.com/users/flag-summary/89737
    – cat
    Mar 14 '16 at 16:44

No, you don't need to acknowledge the zero-width spaces that you copied from Wikipedia. You need to acknowledge creative content that you took from elsewhere. If you copy, say, a sentence, you need to make it clear that this is not your original work and where you took that sentence from. But how you type zero-width spaces is your business.

Stack Exchange generally follows the “general public” model of plagiarism: you need to acknowledge content, but not ideas. On some Stack Exchange sites where much of the audience is from academic circles, you should follow academic acknowledgement standards: if you're using recent advancement that don't count as folklore, acknowledge them, the way you'd do in a paper. Academic standards require more acknowledgement, but that's still always acknowledgement of creative content or ideas.

Regarding the actual situation here, it looks like you were incorrectly accused of plagiarism. That sucks, but a simple, constructive way to handle the situation would have been to just say “no, this answer is original”. Your response getting into formatting elements was misunderstood as an attempt to evade a correct accusation, rather than a refutation of an incorrect accusation.

The original thread (pre-migration) can be seen at this URL but due to the migration you would need 10k reputation on Security to view the answers. The deleted comments on your answer can now only be seen by moderators.

I suspect that all this wouldn't even have come up in the first place if you didn't use silly formatting in your posts. Yes, silly formatting. Your answers and comments look bad when someone views them on a system with different fonts, or when the timestamp on a comment has changed (that affects the line breaks in the content), or even more so on a mobile device where the usual width would not fit. Stack Exchange is not TeX and does not provide visual formatting.

I'm not saying that this excuses the unfounded accusations. It's just a general remark that you could reduce the effort on your part and make your posts easier to read.

  • 6
    +1 for “silly formatting”. I don’t understand the idea behind it, but I’m on a phone right now and those forced line breaks in the question above make it very hard to read.
    – chirlu
    Mar 11 '16 at 16:22

Since it was my comment that evidently triggered the avalanche, I feel obliged to barge in.

  1. I saw an answer with weird formatting that is often a sign of copy-pasta plagiarism.
  2. I asked the OP to provide attribution for any unsourced quotes. I did not investigate the source myself since I had other pressing business at that time. There was not a word 'plagiarism' in my comment.
  3. The following comments from others were growing increasingly frustrated as the OP started maneuvering around and talking about zero-width spaces and whatnot. None of the commenters had the time or inclination to prove plagiarism.
  4. To be on the safe side, the mods deleted the answer.

Looking through the OP's post history I can see that he is wont to do manual formatting by inserting HTML line-breaks and other formatting stuff where it doesn't belong.

This is a habit that damages the site and its contents, and I would kindly ask the OP to stop that practice, and edit manual formatting out of all his posts. HTML rendering engines can do line breaks in all the necessary places themselves, and they can adapt to changing display resolutions etc.

tl;dr Please don't use manual formatting or zero-width spaces or ZALGO code in your posts!


I had thought we had covered this off in one of our early conversations:

  • It was very unclear what you had stated you had copied and what you hadn't - I have to admit I have no idea what you meant when you started bringing in the stuff about zero-width spaces. Not sure why you brought it up. Not sure what it contributed to the discussion. And it seemed very much like you were adding it to avoid conversation to clarify the plagiarism issue.

  • Also, scare quotes - I have no idea what you mean by that either. In the context of your question you only had them round the words "hard" and "easy" so this doesn't appear to be relevant either.

All my comments to you were to try and get you to clarify, and instead you kept adding unrelated information, so I supported the various flags and deleted your post. I did suggest that for clarity you wrote a fresh post with all relevant attribution so we could start from a clean slate without confusion.

As regards your various comments on unrelated posts - I had responded to one of them, but the next two appeared to say exactly the same thing, without any update. Chat or local meta would have been the best way to go about this.

The question then got migrated over to Crypto anyway.

  • If I remember right, the initial comment (probably not by you) to that answer asked me to give attribution for what I copied. I then brought up the zero-width spaces because they were the only things I had copied into that answer. Also, I think I mentioned [that they were the only things I had copied into that answer] in my response to that comment, or maybe my next comment to that answer. (In either case, it should have been there until the comment thread was deleted.) My edit certainly linked to the definition of scare quotes; did my comments not? (... continued)
    – user232555
    Mar 11 '16 at 8:45
  • (continued ...) As mentioned in the comment I'm continuing from, I thought I had clarified. Is there a way I can look at the deleted comment-thread? After reading your statement that you responded to one of my comments on your posts, I looked though my notifications again just in case, although I think those get removed for deleted comments. However, that did let me get back to your last(/only?) comment on my answer, which I see specified that the new post should be "with correct attribution", hence why I asked this question about what that means. (... continued)
    – user232555
    Mar 11 '16 at 9:08
  • (continued ...) Was "for clarity" or "so we could start from a clean slate without confusion" or something like either of those part of an earlier (now-deleted) comment to my answer? (I'm not sure how that sentence from your answer should be parsed.) I thought my comments to your other answers were different-enought; is there a way I can look at the "next two" that "appeared to say exactly the same thing, without any update"? (Also, I didn't see any notification of a response to [any of my comments on your other answers] before you posted this answer.) (... continued)
    – user232555
    Mar 11 '16 at 9:22
  • (continued ...) Finally, I considered local meta, but this answer on this site (specifically, it's phrase "any copying and pasting") was linked to in the deleted comment-thread and seemed like the only reason why my answer's deletion might have been appropriate.
    – user232555
    Mar 11 '16 at 9:28
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    When you need 4 entire comments of text to clarify something, then you have failed.
    – OrangeDog
    Mar 11 '16 at 10:05
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    Ricky - if it was an honest mistake on your part, then I do apologise, but for me and for those who flagged your post, it did look very much like you were deliberately trolling and avoiding any clarifying information. Like I said, I'm sure you could add a valid answer to the question in it's new location on Crypto
    – Rory Alsop
    Mar 11 '16 at 14:58
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    @RoryAlsop Sorry but I don't see any mistake on Ricky's part that warranted the deletion of his answer, except possibly his edit which you could just have reverted. Mar 11 '16 at 15:56
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    @Gilles - the OP has been formatting his answers manually for 3+ years, breaking the viewing experience for thousands SE users. Mar 12 '16 at 6:29

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