Guest what?

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Now here’s an oddity. My plagiarism news alert alerted me to 10 Interesting Facts about Online Essay Writing Services the other day. What I found interesting, even before I clicked on the link, was that the article was posted on the Royal Dutch Shell plc .com website. What interest did Shell, the multinational/ global oil company, have in online essay writing services?

I just had to find out.

It turns out that Royal Dutch Shell plc .com is a gripe site, someone with a grudge against Royal Dutch Shell. The Shell website is simply www.shell.com, not royaldutchshellplc.com.

The site was founded by and is maintained by John Donovan.  On his disclaimer page, he openly proclaims the nature of his grudge against Shell.

Donovan might have good cause for his grievance; he certainly seems to have grievance, be it justified or not.  His site is full of whistle-blowing articles pinpointing practices which may be of a dubious nature. The origins of his grievance are highlighted on his eponymous site, johndonovan.website (one of several he maintains):

And the puzzle: in among the many many articles accusing Shell of misdemeanours of many kinds is the article,  10 Interesting Facts about Online Essay Writing Services. It seems out of place. What’s more, the “10 interesting facts” article extols the supposed virtues of a good essay writing service. Donovan appears to be very much in favour of them.  The article claims that “trustworthy and effective” services provide quality writing, unique content, absolute anonymity and much much more.

So much praise here, the whole article reads like a press release – one that has been translated by a less-than-fluent English speaker, or maybe just put through a synonymiser:

Most students require writing support. In the meanwhile, they likewise require help with editing, quoting, and something of the kind. Therefore, professional companies employ hundreds of specialists to provide their customers with all they may need.

It does not sound genuine.

Although appearing to advise on essay writing sites generally, in the article the author seems to have just one company in mind; not all essay writing services share features such as:

If you’re lucky to find a highly reputed platform, you’ll definitely enjoy some pleasant discounts. Commonly, they are given to the most loyal customers who place regular orders. A flexible system of discounts offers different coupons to save your money. When customers reach a certain number of written words, they activate a certain coupon. The more you order the more you save.

Again, this sounds second-language, not native speaker.

While the article does not actually name any companies, there is a link to one in the first paragraph, shown here by the green arrow:

We’ll come back to the link. I’ll just point to my confusion: the piece is attributed to John Donovan. On the line just below the title it states “Jan 21st 2020 by John Donovan” (red arrow) – but this is just above a linked note, Guest article. My question/s: did Donovan write the piece or not? Did an anonymous guest write the piece (which might make a little more sense)? Is Donovan claiming to have written this piece which might (or might not) have been written by someone else?

Of course there is no harm in featuring guest articles, it is commonly done.  But it is not common for the site-owner to claim to have written them. That “by John Donovan” suggests either (or both) that Donovan is encouraging a practice frowned upon in the academic world (the use of contract cheating sites) – or that he is claiming to have written the article which was in fact written by a guest, another practice frowned upon in the academic world (plagiarism).

At the foot of the article is a disclaimer which states that the views expressed are not necessarily those of the site – but again an attribution to John Donovan.

Did Donovan write the piece or not? Encouragement of dubious academic practice, whether direct or indirect, suggests a lack of integrity, a lack of scruples. And if he did not write the piece himself but claims that he did, then you do wonder about the rest of his site. Sites.

I said we’d come back to the link – but I find the online essay writing site linked in the first paragraph of the piece is itself so worthy of separate comment that I’ll be giving it a post to itself.  Stand by!

Second thoughts about Donovan’s disclaimer

I keep coming back to that disclaimer.  How valid is it? Does it mean anything?

Disclaimer: Publication of the above article and any embedded hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement or recommendation of any company, business, information, products, services or offers contained in the article or in the webpages of any embedded links. Any views, information, allegations or opinions expressed therein are those of the author/originator of the guest article.

Publication of the article “does not constitute endorsement or recommendation” etc and “any views … expressed therein are those of the author” of the article.  By putting his name to the post, Donovan states that the views expressed are his own, thereby suggesting endorsement or recommendation.  He cannot have it both ways.

Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms regularly come under fire for publishing content for which they disclaim responsibility; they claim they have no control over what is published on their sites. That’s not quite true. Many of these platforms are developing algorithms which flag content for human perusal and approval before publication; some kinds of content are automatically detected and barred, no need to go for arbitration. Despite that, some content, often highly contentious, gets through, there are ways to beat the algorithms.

Is Donovan’s site of this kind? Can people simply upload content and have it automatically published, without moderation? I doubt it else the site would be overwhelmed with fake content and fake and inflammatory comments. If this genuinely is someone else’s article, then surely someone, presumably the site-owner John Donovan, has approved the Essay Writing Services post. I wonder why.

Those who associate themselves with dubious practice tarnish their own reputations, their integrity becomes questionable. Donovan’s disclaimer does not wash. It is on the same level as those sites which claim to be selling custom-written essays allegedly for reference purposes only, not to be submitted as a student’s own work, however much was paid for them, however near the deadline.

Whatever his reasons for posting this post, Donovan is implicitly endorsing the Advanced Writers site, useless as it is. He is lending his support.

Out of curiosity, I clicked on the Guest Article link to find how many or how often Donovan supports guest posts. There are four posts with this tag – one of them being our 10 Interesting Facts about Online Essay Writing Services.

Another one is Enjoying A Cruise Holiday With An Excellent Casino Experience. This again claims to be by John Donovan, with no indication that it is a Guest Article at the heading (though there is again a disclaimer at the foot).

The only link in the article is to a ship which is “permanently docked in the Ocean Village Marina in Gibraltar” – an interesting cruise this must be if you never go anywhere… but who needs to go anywhere when losing your money is the point of the exercise?

There’s a third piece, also “by John Donovan” but at the same time a guest post (and again with a Disclaimer), on How to Safely Store Your Fuel At Home.

This time, there are TWO hyperlinks. The first of these (shown above) links to a page Safety Tips for Storing Fuel on the Farm. I don’t know about you, gentle reader, but I don’t live on a farm, I don’t need to know how to refuel a tractor and where and how to store its fuel, etc etc. It’s not what I’d be looking for if I wanted to know how to safely store fuel at home.  The link seems plucked out of nowhere. The second link is even more out of left field:

Appropriate fuel containers are pricey but you can play some profitable games at 1onlinecasino.co.uk to earn the extra cash you need.

Has Donovan no self-respect?

The fourth post tagged as guest article is curious again, Safety Guidance for Operating Construction Crane:

Again, no indication that this is a guest post – and this time, there is no disclaimer. The heading under the photo, more prominent than the title at the top, seems to confirm that this post really is by Donovan, it mentions Shell, Donovan’s bête noire. Except that this is  a red herring; the piece really is about cranes, not about Shell.

There is just one link in the piece:

The hypertext crane hook links to a page Lifting Hooks for Cranes – not a single gambling advertisement in sight, no links to essay mills… Just so very odd on this gripe site. Donovan or guest?

It’s all a puzzle, fun to investigate, but now I feel soiled. If I cannot trust Donovan on the small things, can I trust him on the larger things, his grievances against Shell?  Can we accept anything John Donovan says or suggests, on any of his sites?

Footnote

Coincidentally, just as I was about to post this article, I received an email from someone offering to write a guest article for posting on my site.  I get these messages every so often; I suspect other bloggers reading this do as well. Most often these are from companies with which I would not want to be associated (contract cheating sites or advice on how to foil Turnitin).

This most recent message was slightly different:

Would I be interested in posting a guest post on behalf of one of their clients, or perhaps writing it myself?  “Can you please send me a price quote for an article?

No I can’t. I won’t. I’m not interested in selling space on my site, nor in selling myself.

But does this have anything to do with John Donovan’s occasional posting of articles which have absolutely nothing to do with the theme of his site?  Could be.  Selling his site, selling himself, apparently or actually claiming authorship into the bargain.

Footnote to the footnote

Every time I get to the stage where I am about to post this article, something new happens. Yesterday, the email. Today, I find a new look to Donovan’s article, the one which originally took me to his site:

The design has changed!  No longer all those anti-Shell shouts, the pages are much calmer.  And our online essay writing services post remains “Posted by John Donovan.”

At the foot of the page, a long scroll down and below just one yellow-on-black rant, a number of comments, closely written in small text with long solid paragraphs:

The first comment is someone asking if Donovan accepts guest posts. I think we know the answer to that?

For myself and my own site,  I think not all guests are welcome.  As Laocoön is said to have said, “Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes” (I fear the Greeks, even when they bear gifts).

And, at a wider level, I realise this might explain some of those odd articles I come across at times, ones which might or might not be relevant to the main theme of the site that houses them, but with just one or two links. A form of product placement? It’s a strange business model, isn’t it?

2 thoughts on “Guest what?

  1. Thanks for the post! The indepth ‘john style’ analysis of John Donovan’s site made me laugh, but I have now realised I have allowed a guest article on my own website. The guest contacted me, then sent me the text, which I then posted on my website. For free. It was on a topic linked to my own (yoga), and I felt it would enrich the content of my site. The practices described above sound quite different. Do people offer money to publish guest articles like this? Why would John D otherwise let his site be contaminated with this stuff?

    • Thanks for the comment, Marion.

      That’s the question, isn’t it? Why would John D let his site be contaminated with this stuff? That email I mention in the footnote – it’s the first time I’ve been asked how much I’d charge for a guest article. I guess payment for space does attract some who have space to sell. I cannot think of any other reason why a genuine blog (whatever the merits or politics of the site) would accept a post which has absolutely nothing to do with the site’s theme. Very odd.

      Nor do I understand why someone would pay to have their article posted on someone else’s site – unless they have something to sell, unless there is a trap such as a link to another site which attempts to sell you something (or infect your machine?).

      With regard to your own experience: if the guest post is genuinely relevant, it is another matter. It would seem worth keeping control, vetting any guest article and checking any links therein, don’t assume that links take you to where they say they are taking you.

      I think we are both learning here!

      John

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