by Sable Frey
Social media movements don’t begin with a hashtag.
Social media movements begin before the hashtag goes viral, and even before it’s typed. They begin in offline spaces, in the everyday lives and experiences of human beings. Social media movements are rooted in social and political activism, and the need to speak up for what is right. They offer a voice and platform for those who have been silenced.
More importantly, where do social media movements take us? A hashtag may trend globally, but its impact is not always lasting. One of the most common critiques of social media movements are their opportunities for “clicktivism” and “slacktivism” amongst online audiences. While social media is a vital tool for triggering social movements, human users and offline spaces play an equally important role in creating activism. The most successful social media movements create a connection between online and offline spaces that allow the movement to become widespread and long-lasting.
The #MeToo movement was one of the most prevalent social media movements of 2017 and has continued to impact both online and offline spaces for over a year. However, the movement began far before the hashtag started trending.
The Me Too movement was created in 2006 by social activist Tarana Burke. Burke used the phrase “Me Too” to create a movement that fosters “empowerment through empathy” for survivors of sexual violence, especially young women of colour within underprivileged communities. While Burke developed and circulated the Me Too movement, it was not until 2017, over 10 years since the inception of the term “Me Too”, that the movement became a mainstream and global campaign against sexual abuse.
In October 2017, actress Alyssa Milano used the social media platform Twitter to share her experience of sexual abuse using the phrase “Me Too”. She encouraged other survivors to share their stories. In response, the hashtag #MeToo was circulated on Twitter 1.7 million times in 85 countries. The hashtag also gained responses from dozens of female celebrities who echoed the message of “Me Too”.
While the Me Too movement captured extensive attention online and quickly became recognizable as the #MeToo movement within the digital realm, it also extended and propelled into offline spaces. The Me Too movement spurred campaigns against sexual violence in numerous spaces and industries including film, music, politics, education, sports, military, and medicine. Furthermore, legislative and legal actions have been made, such as the Me Too Congress Act, and court cases resulting in the conviction of rapist and sexual abusers, especially those who have held mass amounts of power in society. Most notorious is the conviction and charge of rapist and sexual abuser Harvey Weinstein, a former film producer who was exposed and exiled from Hollywood throughout the rise of the Me Too moment in 2017.
The Me Too movement generated involvement and action from a range of people and social groups including celebrities, activists, sexual abuse survivors, and everyday citizens. The movement was mobilized through various spaces and platforms including social media, workplaces, red carpet events, and court rooms. Social media generated awareness for the movement, which eventually stimulated efforts against sexual violence to be actualized in physical spaces. Furthermore, the Me Too movement inspired the Time’s Up movement amongst female celebrities, and called for symbolic activities, such wearing black or white roses on the red carpet.
Social media movements don’t exist in an online vacuum. They are created, circulated, and actualized in both online and offline spaces.
Social media can circulate widespread communication that allows social movements to be publicized and performed in society. For the Me Too movement, social media was critical to empowering the voices of those that have been silenced and ignored in society. Social media gave survivors of sexual violence the power to share their stories and develop a recognizable movement against sexual abuse through the circulation of the hashtag #MeToo.
While the Me Too movement existed for ten years prior to Alyssa Milano’s #MeToo tweet in 2017, her social media post triggered the movement to spread across social media. Social media provided a pivotal platform for the Me Too movement to join mainstream media and public conversation, which ultimately lead to actions in physical spaces.
The Me Too movement continues to manifest and develop in online and offline spaces. The connectivity that this social movement has achieved has allowed the Me Too movement to have a vast impact on social understandings and perceptions of sexual violence and abuse. While the #MeToo hashtag was an important tool for mobilizing the movement online, it is important to acknowledge the work that Tarana Burke invested for 10 years prior. The Me Too movement existed before the hashtag, but it did not exist before Burke.
Social media movements do not begin with hashtags, they begin with people who want to speak up for what is right. The #MeToo movement began with Tarana Burke.
Buckley, C. (2018, January 1). Powerful Hollywood Women Unveil Anti-Harassment Action Plan. Retrieved from New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/01/movies/times-up-hollywood-women-sexual-harassment.html
Davis, S. (2017, November 15). ‘Me Too’ Legislation Aims To Combat Sexual Harassment In Congress. Retrieved from NPR: https://www.npr.org/2017/11/15/564405871/me-too-legislation-aims-to-combat-sexual-harassment-in-congress
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Ohlheiser, A. (2017, October 19). The woman behind ‘Me Too’ knew the power of the phrase when she created it — 10 years ago. Retrieved from The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2017/10/19/the-woman-behind-me-too-knew-the-power-of-the-phrase-when-she-created-it-10-years-ago/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.87679431adc8
Strum, L. (2017, October 25). Twitter chat: What #MeToo says about sexual abuse in society. Retrieved from PBS: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/twitter-chat-what-metoo-says-about-sexual-abuse-in-society