The April Autistic Debacle: Autism Awareness/Acceptance Month, Mark Rober and his celebrity laced telethon for Next for Autism, TikToker counter stream for ASAN, allegations of plagiarism by ASAN of the work of an Ingigenous autistic, boycotting the counter stream, canceling the counter stream…it’s been a cluster f***, to say the least, and I have been processing the entire experience, analyzing every move I made along the way. I would like to record the feelings I’ve borne, and I’d like to record the insights I have gained. This may take several posts.
Betrayal. Invalidation, dismissal, gaslighting. Emotional abuse.
I am familiar with these–almost too familiar. Experience does not always yield recognition. Sometimes repetition occurs so automatically that we cannot identify its internal devices. I’ve been fooled–bamboozled–yet again, and I am ready to piece together my experience from a place of distanced objectivity.
Loyal to a fault, that’s me! I often blindly support and even encourage those I consider friends, and to my own detriment, as it is often the case that the allegiance is not reciprocated. You’d think I’d have wised up by now, but alas, I’ve yet another betrayal to log in the annals of my social-relational misfortune.
Here’s what I did, which I regret: I acted without investigation. When my fellow TikTokers promoted their counter stream in support of ASAN, I shared their posts to show my solidarity, but I did so without investigating–for myself–whether the allegations against ASAN, of which I knew well, were founded. Likewise, and almost immediately, I retracted my support for the counter stream and jumped on the boycott bandwagon without investigating–for myself–whether the allegations against ASAN, of which I knew well, were founded.
I chose blind trust; first, for my TikTok friends; then, for my BBIMP Instagram friends.
This was a grave mistake.
It was a mistake because the only grounds for my support of any position was founded in my relationship with these humans, as opposed to a complete understanding of the events over which they clashed.
If I had it to do all over again, I would research the allegedly plagiarized text, as well as the alleged plagiarism before acting. As it happens I have indeed, too little and much too late, investigated the texts, as well as the procedures of copyright law, and had I done so before acting, I would have made completely different decisions.
A social media advocate known as @autistictyping has alleged that ASAN plagiarized the text of their Facebook infographic series Autism Moon, by paraphrasing her work in the publication Start Here: a Guide for Parents of Autistic Kids. ASAN, with legal representation has responded by stating (this is from a comment on Facebook) “The content in ‘Start Here’ is adapted from previous ASAN resources and from scripts that we have used throughout ASAN’s existence when talking with parents. The staff who worked on ‘Start Here’ have not previously read the ‘Autism Moon’ resources.” Autism Moon was published in April 2020, while Start Here was released this year (2021).
According to The Free Dictionary by Farlax, “Plagiarism is theft of another person’s writings or ideas. Generally, it occurs when someone steals expressions from another author’s composition and makes them appear to be his own work. Plagiarism is not a legal term; however, it is often used in lawsuits. Courts recognize acts of plagiarism as violations of Copyright law, specifically as the theft of another person’s Intellectual Property.”
It goes on to explain that it is particularly challenging for courts and juries to discern when unlawful copying has occurred. Additionally, “Not every unauthorized taking of another’s work constitutes plagiarism,” as there are exceptions via fair uses policies, and “similarity alone is not proof of plagiarism.” It further states that “sometimes the question is one of proper attribution.”
I reviewed both the Autism Moon text and ASAN’s Start Here. The resemblance between the two was entirely structural. The language was completely different, while the content addressed was similar and the perspective shared between the authors, but to me, this isn’t sufficient to constitute allegations of plagiarism because a shared perspective between two autistic self-advocates (as both authors are thus) is to be expected as a naturally occurring development. There are many aspects of the Autism Moon that are not addressed in the Start Here text, and likewise, there are sections of Start Here that address content not expressed in Autism Moon.
As stated previously, similarity alone is insufficient to constitute a valid claim of plagiarism or a violation of Copyright. To the credit of @autistictyping I can see how she may perceive the structural similarities as constituting paraphrasing, but honestly, to say this, I am really trying to give @autistictyping the benefit of the doubt. My assessment is that while @autistictyping believes that ASAN paraphrased her work, there isn’t sufficient evidence.
Similarly, many of the ideas expressed in Autism Moon are, by default, part of the discourse of the autistic self-advocacy community. I do not currently have a Facebook account, and I had never seen Autism Moon prior to this, but there are parallels between that text and the content I create for YouTube. Someone could just as easily accuse me of plagiarizing @autistictyping. My point is that the discourse of an advocacy community will be reflected in the work of various disconnected participants, and this similarity is an organic development that proceeds from shared advocacy spaces.
In conclusion, I do not believe I did the correct thing in blindly supporting my fellow autistic creators, in either direction. I should have made the effort and done the research prior to acting. This was a grave mistake that led to immense fallout in the autistic community, as I cannot help but feel responsible for the role I played in the canceling of both the Tiktok counter stream and the unfortunate abuse incurred in the wake of the fallout by Beckspectrum who organized the event.
I plan to address some other aspects of this entire experience in future posts. I would like to speak to why I decided to investigate the alleged plagiarism, and I would like to speak to why I resisted doing so at the start. I would also like to address the toxicity of competition among the autistic social media influencer community, which I believe played a significant role in these events, as well as the scapegoating, gaslighting and manipulation of white allies by some members of the BBIMP online advocacy community.
I am speaking my truth. This will anger people. Some of you will turn against me. I am bracing myself. My goal is to move through life with integrity. Blindly following the social authority is not moving with integrity. If my turn to autonomy offends, so be it.