Unstrange Mind

Autistic Author, Artist, Advocate, and Speaker

What It Felt Like When My Words Went Viral (Without Me)

bookcat

[image description: Fermat the Wonder Cat imitates the High Priestess card of the Tarot by gazing thoughtfully into the distance atop a stack of books. Photo copyright 2016, Sparrow R. Jones]


I had always secretly hoped that one day my words would go viral online. What can I say? I’m a writer and I work hard at my craft. When I see that an article I’ve written has thousands of views, I smile. A couple of times, I’ve broken a hundred thousand views and I felt an adrenaline rush as I watched the numbers rapidly rising over the course of a few days.

But now something I’ve written has actually gone genuinely viral and it was so upsetting I didn’t get out of bed for two days.

What? (I’m imagining you’re saying that as you read this) I thought you wanted your words to go viral? Why are you so upset?

Yeah…see…every time I thought about my words going viral or watched my numbers rise higher than they had before, those were my carefully crafted words that I had composed and published intentionally, with my name on them, wanting the world to read them and pass them around as much as possible.

But my words went viral in November without me. They left without my permission and without my name. They were not my carefully crafted words, meant for the world to see and ponder, reflect on and discuss, grow inspired by and feel moved to take action as a result of reading. They were angry words dashed out with little heed for grammar, spelling, gravitas or the carefully balanced triad of ethos, pathos and logos I strive for in my formal work.

An angry note I shot at a family member in the middle of a heated argument over the outcome of the presidential election — a note filled with all the adrenaline and rage of decades of family skeletons tumbling out of the closet into a clattering heap of bones on the floor at our feet — was what ended up all over Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit, the XKCD reader forum, YouTube video descriptions, meme graphic generation sites…..everywhere.

I am conflicted about my name having been removed. They were words never intended for the larger world and they were words of anger, a tormented howl of anguish. But they were mine. I reject them and I mourn my name being stripped from them. They were not my carefully crafted, painstakingly polished words, but the power they carry comes from years of work and practice, writing thousands of words every day, honing my craft, finding my voice. They were angry pencil jabs ripping through the paper, but they were mine and carried fruits of all my years of efforts off into the void where several other people grabbed hold of them and put their names on them. As much as it hurt seeing my words running around without me, it made me want to hurt someone else, seeing my words with a stranger’s byline.

I tracked down one of the strangers. She was hateful and admitted she had put her name on someone else’s words and suggested I sue her before blocking me. In attempting to track down another stranger, I encountered someone who had shared the words who I ended up blocking because she kept insisting I seek therapy. I’ll be the first to admit I’m pretty unbalanced these days, but I was not looking for life advice, just playing detective on how the words spread.

In part, I wanted to find the plagiarists who were so bold as to claim someone else’s words as their own and I wanted to ask them to explain the reasoning behind their choice. (As if I were expecting reason and logic from Thought Thieves?)  But in larger part I ached to know how my words ran away from me like that. How did a family argument that ended up with most of my family blocked on Facebook and the rest painful to even think about, let alone consider interacting with ever again … how did that turn into a run-away viral meme?

I will never know. Part of healing from the experience was admitting that I would never know and being willing to consciously let it all go, bid my words farewell, know that there are more words — there will always be more words — and focus on continuing on my journey, leaving my misbegotten words to work whatever dharma they might be working.

“You should turn those words into a op-ed piece and present it to the Washington Post and The New York Times, etc. Don’t worry about the Facebook crap. Take your words to a larger audience,” a stranger told me when I was struggling to track down who and how my words had gotten away from me. “Fight back. Get it published in a newspaper where millions will read them. Your words have power. You can use them to affect many readers. I was impressed by what you wrote and I don’t impress easily. Your words struck a deep chord in everyone who read it.”

Yes….I understand. That’s why words go viral in the first place. They touch a nerve in others.

I had really hoped that I could develop enough skill as a writer to do that intentionally.

I have beaten myself up over this, bitterly suggesting to myself that I should only write after getting myself really riled up first. If it takes being flooded with adrenaline to produce writing that people love enough to steal, maybe I should just live in an out of control emotional frenzy so I can create more words that will move so many people so deeply.

But that’s an painfully angry non-solution and I know it. Spending so much of my time in such a worked-up state would send me to jail, the madhouse, an early grave — possibly all of the above, each in turn.

I feel isolated. Not only was my name removed from my words — something that feels like having my identity stripped away, strange though that comparison might sound to others — but I feel like no one else on the face of the Earth understands why it affected me so deeply that I took to my bed for two days to recover. I feel completely alien and frequently foolish as I listen to others attempt to mirror my pain back at me only to reveal that they have utterly failed to understand why this event has struck such a blow that I sank into a pit of despair and (temporary) loss of creativity.

I am proud of my words. I am ashamed of my words. I am angry that strangers are claiming credit for my words. I am relieved that I am not being passed around the internet as “that angry person” or worse. More people have found my words moving than I’ve ever experienced before and I feel more isolated from the human species than ever before.

And that is what it felt like (and in painful moments, still feels like) when my words went viral without me.

10 Comments

  1. You are not alone. I am angry that this has happened to you. I too would be outraged if it happened to me. I stand with you!

  2. I first read your words on Quora about a month ago, upvoted them immediately, but failed to Bookmark the Answer where they appeared. I’ve been beating myself up for that failure for the last month. I don’t remember if your words were attributed to you or not, back then. Recently, your words were quoted again on Quora, with your name as attribution. This time, I Bookmarked it! And tracked you down via Google to here. And am strangely glad I did.

    I’m Aspie. When writing, I’m super precise, rereading several times — out loud — before hitting Send. I’m not familiar with anything else that you’ve written — yet — except the blog entry above. You’re obviously hurting, deeply, emotionally. I’m going to take a shot at understanding why.

    1. You’ve been betrayed by people to whom you entrusted a private communication. These people had the power to hurt you, and they did — casually, without thinking of your feelings, without even asking for permission. Your circle of trusted people got smaller. We with ASD don’t have a lot of trusted people around us, and betrayal — hurts. A lot.

    2. You’ve taken great pains to develop your communication skills, and take pride in your output. You’re careful with your words and art. When you present something publicly, you know it’s good stuff. Yet, your truly honest words about not forgiving were not a product of that careful process — you blasted them out, uncensored, unreviewed, raw. Here’s a possible problem: You haven’t accepted that those raw words were actually the product of all your careful training, your craft, your knowledge. No chance to develop the pride of authorship that you need.
    No one to my knowledge has ever done a better job of expressing the disgust many of us feel at Trump supporters. That’s why those words went viral — frankly, it’s a masterpiece. A legacy. Your self-esteem should go up, even without the pride of authorship process.

    3. You got screwed over for credit. No question. You’ve been trying very hard to make a positive impact on others, and feel you deserve credit for making that impact. None of your other carefully crafted work hit the gong of broad acceptance; this one did, and you haven’t gotten any credit for it! That’s gotta hurt, but nowhere near as bad as getting betrayed initially.
    The good news is that your name is becoming known as the source, slowly, quietly. The better news is that you now have confirmation that you are truly an excellent writer. I’d never have found this blog otherwise.

    4. Relax. Hate, anger, passion, writing someone off — those are appropriate occasionally. Not often, but occasionally. You don’t have to use those stressful emotions when writing to affect people. One example of an uncensored communication going viral isn’t a good reason to change your whole writing style. Think: Donald Trump does those things, a lot. You shouldn’t think that way. [Free Advice — worth every penny]. It’s not who you are.

    I don’t know if this guess is anywhere close to understanding what you’ve been feeling. Just know that I’m sorry it happened this way. Look at all you’ve learned about yourself through this experience — what’s important to you. And now it’s time to let it go.

    Best wishes,
    Dave

    • unstrangemind

      January 5, 2017 at 3:52 pm

      Hi, Dave

      Your message here was the first notice I had that someone was finally giving me credit for what I wrote. I would have responded to you sooner, but I can only access my blog admin from my Surface and not from my phone so it had to wait until my next chance to come to the library to get some work done and charge up my house battery (I live in a minivan.)

      Thank you and you were pretty accurate, especially on point #1. I have a posting filter on Facebook that contains a tiny fraction of the people on my contact list (I stubbornly refuse to call it a friends list because my definition of “friend” is more precise and less inclusive than Mark Zuckerberg’s.) I have battened down the hatches as far as my casual communication online goes and pulled even farther into my safety bubble as a result of this violation.

      At the same time, I am taking note. Seeing my writing take off like that has affected everything from how I’m choosing to present my formal online writing to how I”m approaching the novel I’m currently working on, to my future plans. It has been bittersweet, but not so bitter that it completely drowns out the sweet.

  3. They stole your words to give a little bit of your fire to everyone else. I’m sorry.

  4. Hi! I found your blog after sharing your wonderful words with my followers, and I wanted to let you know that though you think your writing is imperfect, your words made an impact on me and a lot of others. You found the words to describe what a lot of people are struggling to communicate.

    I made an effort to find out who wrote the text so I could give you credit. Credit matters. You might have written in affect, but they are your words and I would have felt weird posting them without knowing who wrote them. Unfortunately the internet is for everyone, including people with no respect for credit and property. It sucks but once something goes viral I guess it’s out of everyone’s control.

    Anyway, I just wanted to let you know not everyone are just blatantly stealing your words without credit. Had I known the origin was from a private conversation I would have hesitated with reposting, at least until I got your permission.

  5. I saw this around the time it went viral and came upon it today. This time around, it was attributed.
    I hope time has begunto heal your wounds.

    https://www.quora.com/Why-is-it-so-hard-for-educated-liberals-to-empathize-with-Trump-supporters/answer/Marc-Whitaker-1?ref=fb

  6. I just saw your words shared on Facebook, and I wanted to share them through the original source. I found myself here.

    Thank you for this post. It hadn’t occurred to me that it was private, originally, and shar d without your consent or with attribution.

    Although your words eloquently explain how many of us feel, I won’t be sharing them without your explicit permission.

    • unstrangemind

      January 13, 2017 at 7:36 pm

      I have largely separated myself from the issue at this point. If the words move you, share them, preferably not with someone else’s name on them. Other than that, the words have already taken on a life of their own and there’s not much point in trying to stem the tide.

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