This article is by Hannah Menchhoff, student of MSc Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science. 

The social media hashtag #metoo started off as a response in solidarity to those victimized by film producer, Harvey Weinstein. But it quickly turned into an online debate with some women sharing their experiences of sexual harassment and assault, others calling for an end to women being forced to self-identify, and men trying to empathize.

Like many other social media activist movements there is always the question of the usefulness of posting. What does your social media post actually result in and how do we get past this initial stage of revelation? Frankly, I had trouble posting anything simply because the content seemed oversaturated and I couldn’t see what I was adding to the conversation.

Arguably, in this case, the point of the hashtag was to simply bring awareness to the vast numbers of women who have been victims of sexual harassment and assault. Five years ago, millions posted in response to the Kony 2012 viral video, that was also to promote awareness for a cause. Even though it was revealed that the NGO behind it, Invisible Children, had some credibility issues in the end, a swathe of social media users at least knew of Joseph Kony’s crimes against children in Uganda.

When this happens though, consider the personalized newsfeed. In her study on moral outrage online, M.J. Crockett writes, “…online platforms have profoundly changed the incentives of information sharing. Because they compete for our attention to generate advertising revenue, their algorithms promote content that is most likely to be shared, regardless of whether it benefits those who share it—or is even true.”

Furthermore, content that you are more likely to enjoy is pushed to the top of your newsfeed. This means, those who are actually seeing the content regarding #metoo are more likely to know the issues regarding the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the prevalence of sexual violence. Those who don’t see it might not have friends who are talking about it and thus might not get the experience of learning from the #metoo movement. It doesn’t mean, of course, that every post is worthless.

Nadia Khomami reported in The Guardian that at least three journalists were fired in the last week over social media postings accusing them of sexual harassment or assault. In her opinion, we are seeing significant effects from #metoo.

Ultimately, #metoo also has the opportunity to turn into a bigger social movement. Perhaps one that lasts longer than the short lived outrage associated with President Donald Trump’s 2005 Access Hollywood appearance.

It certainly did when blogger and activist Caroline Criado-Perez started campaigning for the Bank of England to keep a woman on the £10 note. When it was finally announced that Jane Austen would be on the note, the resulting counter-campaign consisted of terrifying harassment on Twitter that included threats of rape and death. To reiterate, this was harassment against women trying to just change a bank-note. What started out as a campaign of limited effect, turned into a broader conversation regarding the treatment of women. Ultimately, it helped force Twitter to add a button for reporting abusive posts and an increased awareness of online incitement.

Of course, there is no clear outcome of any social media movement – much of the impact measurement is anecdotal. So, who is to say #metoo won’t stick? I hope some of this online awareness and a few more open minds can spark tangible action.

“I don’t think we [should] underestimate how much of an impact is being made by the way in which women can just speak out about their experiences, because we’re just not represented in the news media, and films and literature,” said Criado-Perez [to Khomami]. “Until the internet came along, we just weren’t having these conversations about what it’s like to be a woman, what it’s like to walk down the street and be harassed and cat-called. We didn’t know about the idea of everyday sexism.”

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This article by Hannah Menchhoff, student of MSc Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science. 

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