Our Urgent Need to Share

The need to immediately share information on social media is a curious subject in our home. It’s the urgency that tickles me, the act of posting on the Internet before thinking through the consequences. With access to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram getting easier with each new mobile gadget on the market, there is no surprise that issues arise in the area of justice. A recent case in Miami, Florida, proves that point after a man’s daughter loses her father’s $80,000 settlement by blabbing the news on Facebook. The settlement language included a confidentiality agreement. He broke the agreement by telling his daughter. She felt the urgent need to share it with her 1,200+ Facebook followers.

The problem isn’t about reading the fine print or getting a better lawyer. The problem isn’t having 1,200+ Facebook followers. (Notice the term “followers” now replaces the term “friends.”) It’s about the urgency to share information in social media without first considering the consequences. The repercussion in this case was that Dad lost $80,000. Lesson learned. Hearing it on the radio gave us something to chuckle about.

But what are the consequences in the publishing world?

Recently, a poem, “Our Generation,” written by eighth-grader Jordan Nichols, went viral. The entire poem, title, and the author’s name were captured in a photo and tweeted by his brother, Derek Nichols. The picture was retweeted and shared on Facebook immediately. Because of the viral status, the work was then posted on sites such as The Independent and Media Bistro’s Galley Cat. Bloggers picked it up and copied the words into their blogs labeling it as “genius,” “unbelievably wise,” and “a declaration of hope,” because when read a second time from the bottom up, the perspective changes. The San Francisco Times writes that it is “the most significant poem of this decade.” I guess they didn’t bother to read the original, “Lost Generation,” written and videotaped as an AARP contest entry in 2007 by Jonathan Reed, also of this decade. According to Yesmagazine.org, Reed’s video was inspired by the Argentinian political advertisement “The Truth” by RECREAR.

It shouldn’t matter that someone found the original. Kudos to Reed, by the way, for winning second place. It shouldn’t matter that Nichols’ poem is an imitation poem. Imitation poems are nothing new to the world of poetry. I’ve seen them published in The New Yorker. It was probably an assignment at school. My daughter had the same assignment last week. I did one in college.

What matters is that Jordan wrote it and his brother killed it by posting it on Twitter. Whether Jordan approved of sharing his work, or not, is only part of the problem. There was an urgency felt by his brother to share, so he did what most people today are doing. He took a picture and posted it. The act probably didn’t take more than a minute. Posting pictures is easy to do. One minute doesn’t give you much time to think about the consequences. His post retweeted over 144,000 times. The media picked up the buzz. The original was found. Now there are posters out there labeling the work as “deceptively simple,” and worse, “plagiarized,” all because it was presented to society so quickly that honest literary review became impossible. Did Jordan ask for that? We don’t know, because he didn’t post it.

Could Jordan sell his imitation poem to a magazine editor or publisher in the future? Maybe, but “Our Generation” is now considered published. Chances are that a publication may reprint it one day, but they won’t pay for a work that’s already been circulated via the Internet. He can thank his brother for that. It’s dead now.

Writers face this risk when sharing their own work on social media sites. Once it’s shared, we have no control over how many times it is viewed, retweeted, or reposted. This lack of control is the reason that work posted via the Internet is considered published. The better-paying markets will not accept previously published poems or stories. So, when you post your work to the Internet, you have to consider that you’re giving it away. If that is your intention, then wonderful. But if you want to sell your work, don’t post it.

Did Jordan’s brother know that by tweeting a picture of the entire poem, title, and author’s name, that he was in fact publishing his brother’s work on the Internet? I’m going to bet that in his urgency to publicly share, he didn’t take the time to think about it. But that’s an issue for another day.

So, to the author of this clever imitation poem, I say, Great work, young man. I hope you received a decent grade for not only selecting an award-winning poem to imitate, but also for recreating a hopeful and memorable message for your generation.

To the author’s brother, I say, How dare you?

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