In an effort to create goodwill, several diabetes treatment and technology companies have created peer-to-peer programs, sponsoring bloggers and coaches who provide support and encouragement to others with diabetes. These peer mentors also serve as the public faces of the companies that sponsor them. Medtronic has sponsored such a program with its MiniMed Ambassador program, hosting over 110 volunteer pump users who are available for email conversation
In December, however, one of Medtronic’s ambassadors was accused of plagiarizing other diabetes bloggers in her blog and in her bio information. While the plagiarist first said that her account had been hacked, she soon deleted most of her social media presence and apologized to those she plagiarized.
The controversy erupted on Facebook on December 16, when Melissa Lee posted on Facebook that a blogger had lifted parts of her writing from other publications. Lee, who is community relations director for Bigfoot Biomedical, a rival of Medtronic in the development of artificial pancreas technology, posted this complaint on her private Facebook account, and did not mention Bigfoot or Medtronic by name in her original post.
(Here I should note that I have decided not to mention the plagiarist by name. I choose not to do so partly at the request of those of whom she plagiarized, and partly because someone threatened violence towards her. I have confirmed her identity with her and two other sources.)
Soon, several others chimed in with examples of plagiarism, including Kerri Sparling, the blogger who publishes Six Until Me. It was also pointed out that the plagiarist was listed as a MiniMed ambassador, and that her bios contained plagiarized passages.
The plagiarist first addressed the lifted passages by denying she had anything to do with them.
“That was not my writing,” she said. She later added, “Facebook deactivated my account a few months back and I thought nothing of it.”
Between those two comments, the link to her blog had disappeared from a piece of writing. Soon, most of her writing had been taken down. A few comments later, someone threatened her with violence, saying that jail time was a deterrent to carrying the threat out.
I directly contacted the plagiarist, and she responded by email, writing, “I understand what has been done and have learned a lesson and would wish that it wouldn’t be made into a public article that will ruin my future.” She did not directly respond to further questions.
Medtronic communications manager Pamela Reese responded by email to questions about the plagiarist, stating, “I can confirm that (she) has been a part of our MiniMed Ambassador program. In light of the recent allegation, we have removed her profile while we are investigating. Medtronic began our MiniMed Ambassador program 3 years ago and this is the first incident we’ve ever had. We will be looking at our processes to see if we need to make any changes for the future.”
On her blog, the plagiarist also listed support for Leaf & Love Organics, a stevia-sweetened lemonade maker, but it was unclear if she had a formal arrangement with the company. Leaf & Love Organics did not respond to an online inquiry into the matter.
The plagiarist’s blog is still online, but has no posts. Likewise, Melissa’s original Facebook post has been deleted. Two and a half weeks later, I received an email from a MiniMed Ambassador team member that made no mention of the incident of plagiarism. The email read, “About two weeks ago, you reached out to a MiniMed Ambassador through the Medtronic Diabetes website. We’d love to hear about your experience and find out if the connection was helpful to you, so we’re asking you to take this brief survey.”
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