Social Media Trend or Social Justice Movement

Time is at a historic tipping point for women. In October 2017, the hashtag #MeToo spread across the world. What began as a Hollywood sexual assault scandal sparked a social movement around the world. Thousands of women are using two words on social media to identify themselves as survivors of sexual harassment and assault. A year later, the election of Brett Kavanaugh for the supreme court raised the same issue, and the #MeToo movement is only rising in power. In order to understand how sexual harassment is framed by media, it is more important to examine how media frames the #MeToo movement. The #MeToo hashtag has often times been considered a social media trend, but hashtag activism has allowed for those two words to lead to social movement with rapid growth and mobility. Sexual abuse, which has been traditionally brushed aside due to the fear of shame and retaliation, finally came to light. Social media has transformed social justice movements by allowing issues to be spread and mobilized faster than ever before, sparking of the #MeToo movement by way of mass communication.

What started as Hollywood’s biggest scandal, quickly turned into a movement to raise awareness for sexual assault by women who have been sexually assaulted or harassed. Harvey Weinstein’s alleged behavior started one of the most important conversations in Hollywood’s history, and his epic fall from power began one year ago. It all started with a few brave women coming forward about mistreatment at the hands of the Oscar-winning producer. The unfortunate allegations against Weinstein ranged from harassment to rape and included stories of more than 80 women over the course of several decades. Upon all of the allegations and women coming forward about sexual misconduct in Hollywood, Alyssa Milano took to twitter to create a tweet that instantly became viral. She wrote, “Suggested by a friend: If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem” (2018). But the online movement didn’t start with Milano. It started more than 10 years ago with activist Tarana Burke. According to her interview with the New York Times, in 1997, Tarana Burke sat across from a 13-year-old girl who had been sexually abused. The young girl was explaining her experience, and it left Ms. Burke speechless (2017). That moment is where the “Me Too” campaign was born. Ten years later in 2006, she created a nonprofit organization that helps victims of sexual assault and harassment and provides resources for them. She named the movement “Me Too” and in October of 2017, those two words burst into the spotlight of social media with #MeToo, a hashtag promoted by the actress Alyssa Milano. According to the associate press, after her tweet, social media was soon flooded with stories of harassment and assault, as #MeToo became a way for users to tell their experience with sexual violence and stand in solidarity with other survivors. The hashtag was widely used on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and other platforms; on Facebook, it was shared in more than 12 million posts and reactions in the first 24 hours (2018). This rapid growth in only one day pronounces the power of social media in creating this social movement.

#MeToo then acquired much backlash from men in “fear” as well as by critics of social media. According to The Economist, surveys suggest that this year-long storm of allegations, confessions and firings has actually made Americans more skeptical about sexual harassment (2018). The National Sexual Violence Resource Centre, an American non-profit organization, found that in 2017, 13% of Americans thought that false accusations were a bigger problem than unreported attacks, and in 2018, that increased to 18% of Americans (2018). The backlash of the movement is coming mostly from men. Men fear that anything they do or say to a woman will be used against them as a sexual assault allegation later, but the problem with this argument is that it is easy to identify what is sexual assault and harassment and what isn’t. There should not be any fear or confusion if men refrain from sexually assaulting or harassing women. The other argument against #MeToo, is the simplification of the movement to a social media trend. Many argued that not everyone is on social media, and not everyone will receive the same voice for their stories like celebrities have. #MeToo rose to power surrounding the conversation of sexual assault and harassment in Hollywood, following the Harvey Weinstein case, but it is far more than a trend like the Ice Bucket Challenge or Harlem Shake. #MeToo is a movement of activism using social media and the hashtag as a tool for spreading the word. The use of social media is not to be undermined as a trend, it is a game changer in 2018 and has completely shifted the conversation of sexual assault and harassment in just one year.

The hard work of activists, advocates, and brave women around the world who have come forward to share their stories is finally paying off, according to a new study research firm Perry-Undem. According to The Global Citizen, 43% of men surveyed in the recent study said the news coverage of sexual harassment and assault has made them reflect on their past interactions with women and whether or not they might have been interpreted as inappropriate (2017). In the case of #MeToo, hashtag activism created mass awareness and understanding of the magnitude of this problem. According to Baran and Davis, mass communication is when a source, typically an organization, employs a technology as a medium to communicate with a large audience. Though it is “just social media”, what’s especially significant about it being widely used as a hashtag is numbers. When women began using it, other victims saw that they were not actually alone, and it gave them more courage to come out and share their own stories. A post can be shared over and over again, across a wide range of audiences via social media. Celebrities may have a larger presence, but anyone with an account could post about it or see what other people they know are saying. This empowers the victims while also creating an awareness that may not have otherwise existed. Word of mouth may spread fast, but social media spreads faster. Hashtags place several posts into one category for people to clearly see how many people were sharing posts using #MeToo. Social media is a modern form of mass communication, and the ability to go viral, or just spread to your local following, is enough to spark a movement if enough people are joining the conversation.

Not only are people joining the conversation, but people now more than ever are listening. According to Charlotte Ryan, Kevin M. Carragee, and Cassie Schwerner in “Media, Movements, and the Quest for social justice”, social movements uses news media to broaden the discourse (1998). Social media, though a newer medium, also functions as a news outlet in many cases. Almost every popular and trustworthy outlet is on social media. They know that everyone is on social media, therefore it is the most effective way to ensure that news is being circulated to all audiences. According to Ryan, Carragee, and Schwerner, their “focus on social movements rests on the assumption that meaningful political change and the expansion of social justice depend upon collective action” (1998). Social media allows for millions of people to come together by sharing two words “#MeToo”. Social media makes it easy for people get engaged in the conversation, and even those who are silent or have their critiques, are at least becoming aware of the conversation. According to Ying Xiong’s article on Hashtag Activism, the term is defined as the “act of fighting for or supporting a cause with the use of hashtags as the primary channel to raise awareness of an issue and encourage debate via social media” (2018). The hashtag is a frame used to pursue the goals of the advocates of the movement, which is social change.

#MeToo progressively gained power and attention throughout 2018 and was brought to everyone’s attention during the election of Senator Brett Kavanagh for The Supreme Court. When elected for the Supreme Court, decade old sexual assault allegations arose from Christine Blasey Ford.

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