Social Media Activism and the #MeToo Movement
The fight for gender equality has inspired social and political movements around the world, especially in the United States. While these movements for equality are not new, the use of social media to spur these movements is. Advocates for equal rights and feminism today use social media as a platform to increase visibility of ongoing issues and inspire change because users are able to disseminate information quickly and to a large, global audience. In this report, I explore this new phenomenon of social media activism by analyzing social movements that started on social media in order to determine the effectiveness of social media activism, especially for feminist and gender equality movements. Through a uses and gratifications approach, activists can better understand which platforms millennials choose to engage with and what needs they satisfy by engaging in social media activism. Understanding these motivations and gratifications will determine whether social media activism is capable of mobilizing offline and making real social and cultural change.
Sexual Violence Against Women
The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women defines violence against women as: “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women” (UN, 1993). Violence against women is due to both the manifestation of sex inequality and the unequal balance of power among sexes in society (Watts and Zimmerman, 2002). This imbalance of power devalues women in society and allows men, whether they are spouses, partners, parents, other family members, neighbors, teachers, employers, etc., to take advantage of this power. While the term “violence against women” encompasses a variety of abuses that target women, for the intent of this paper, I will be focusing on sexual violence specifically, which includes all unwanted sexual advances ranging from verbal assault to rape. The World Health Organization (WHO) in its 2002 World Report on Violence and Health defined sexual violence as “any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise directed, against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting” (WHO, 2002). Sexual violence is deeply rooted in world history and, while the level of this violence varies among cultures, is present today worldwide. Sexual violence has continued to be a pervasive issue because it is more unreported than not. Every 98 seconds another American is sexually assaulted. According to The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), the Criminal Justice System in the United States fails survivors. Out of 1000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will likely walk free. 310 of these cases are reported to the police, only 57 lead to arrest and only 6 will be incarcerated. These statistics prove that perpetrators of sexual violence are less likely to go to prison than other criminals. For lesser sexual assault and battery crimes against women, out of 1000, 627 are reported to the police and only 33 will be incarcerated. The majority of survivors choose not to report these assaults for various reasons including fear of retaliation, belief that the police will not do anything to help, belief it was a personal matter or their own fault, belief it was not important to report and fear of getting the perpetrator in trouble (RAINN). These reasons are all rooted in shame and the fear of backlash.
A January 2018 survey conducted by Stop Street Harassment, a nonprofit organization dedicated to documenting and ending gender-based street harassment worldwide revealed that 81 percent of women and 43 percent of men have experienced some sort of sexual harassment in their lifetime. These experiences represent the continuum of sexual harassment that women experience every day including verbal sexual harassment, unwanted sexual touching, cyber sexual harassment, being followed, unwanted genital flashing and sexual assault. This survey also took into account locations where people were sexually harassed. 66 percent of women said they had been sexually harassed in a public place, 38 percent of women said they were sexually harassed in the workplace, and 35 percent said they experienced it at their home. However, according to Holly Kearl, the main author of the report, “most people who said they had experienced sexual harassment experienced it in multiple locations.” This survey exhibits the ongoing cultural problem of sexual harassment; however, it also demonstrates the increase in survivors reporting and discussing these incidents.
These statistics exemplify how sexual violence against women is a pervasive issue worldwide. Not only do perpetrators walk free more often than not, but women are oppressed by these experiences and often shamed for them.
2017 was a landmark year for the conversation of sexual abuse and violence. In October 2017, the #MeToo movement spread virally as the use of the hashtag on social media platforms brought attention to the pervasive issue of sexual assault and harassment among women. This movement followed the public revelations of sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein, an award-winning film producer and long-time sexual predator. More than 100 women who worked on Weinstein’s films accused Weinstein of sexual abuse over the last 30 years, including harassment, assault and rape. Shortly after, countless women came forward with allegations of sexual abuse against hundreds of other powerful men in Hollywood and various other industries with varying repercussions. This outbreak of accusations paved the way for women all over the world to share their experiences of sexual abuse on social media with the hashtag #MeToo.
The hashtag was first recognized when actress Alyssa Milano tweeted it with the message “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” However, years before Milano publicized the idea of “Me Too” as a way to give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem of sexual abuse, activist Tarana Burke originally created the phrase. In 2007, Burke created Just Be Inc., a nonprofit organization focused on the health, well-being and wholeness of young women of color. Its programs center around empowerment and guidance for girls between the ages of 12 and 18 as they grow and begin to define themselves (JustBeInc.). Program topics vary, but many aim to help victims of sexual harassment and assault. This is where the “Me Too” movement began. Burke uses “Me Too” to unify survivors of sexual abuse and violence. She began it to promote “empowerment through empathy” among women of color who experienced sexual abuse, particularly within underprivileged communities, to unify survivors in a community of healing so that they do not feel alone in their experiences. While Burke’s movement was empowering and helpful within her community, it was not widely recognized because of its beginning before the existence and regular use of social media. She never imagined her movement to become a worldwide social media movement.
Social Media Activism and “Slacktivism”
Since its beginning, social media has provided a platform for its users to express their opinions, feelings and views on topics of their choosing. Through the years, it has evolved into an accessible way for individuals to interact with the global community with a click of a button. Facebook, Twitter and other social networking and content sharing sites facilitate the communication of localized issues to a global audience. Due to this easy access to world news, visibility of social issues and events has increased. New media technologies have transformed the way millennials engage in activism. Online activism includes proactive actions to achieve a common goal or reactive actions against certain controls and the imposing authorities (McCaughey and Ayers, 2013). Social networks provide not only a platform for people to exchange ideas, but also a simpler way to participate in activist causes they are passionate about. Social media activism has become part of the twenty-first century activism that is either initiated online and moved offline or remains on social media with no action ever taken (Gerbaudo, 2012). This issue of the mobilization of movements from social media into the physical world is a common critique of social media activism. However, millennials have arguably developed a sense of community through using social media as a tool for organizing and implementing social movements. The process of mobilization involves the process of gathering individuals and groups around something they share in common. Social media gives them access to social issues outside their localities, allowing for worldwide support of global issues and mobilization.
According to two researchers (Sandoval-Almazan & Gil-Garcia, 2014), there are four stages of social movements that utilize social media: (1) triggering event, (2) media response, (3) viral organization, and (4) physical response. A triggering event is an extraordinary event that promotes a social reaction to it. The event breaks the status quo of society, is autonomous, and citizens organize around it. With new media and traditional media covering the event, they both use multiple technologies to disseminate information across the globe. This widespread coverage allows for support by a group with a common interest and a viral organization is formed. This viral organization develops a collective identity through creating consistent messages that move from online to offline, culminating into a physical response. Placing this movement into the physical world shows its power and strength, and may encourage others to promote and duplicate the movement in other areas (Sandoval-Almazan & Gil-Garcia, 2014). While this circular flow model is somewhat unpredictable, it demonstrates that collective action is constantly adapting to new contexts and technologies, which allows for online activism to move offline. However, if the viral organization is not collectively strong enough and fails to come together for a single common interest, a physical response will likely not happen and the social media movement will die out.
Social media is celebrated by some as a catalyst for social change. NYU professor Clay Shirky argues that social media are new tools enabling new forms of group formation in turn making our lives easier and communication faster and better. In an article published in Foreign Affairs titled “The Political Power of Social Media,” Shirky writes, “as the communication landscape gets denser, more complex, more participatory, the networked population is gaining greater access to information, more opportunities to engage in public speech, and an enhanced ability to undertake collective action” (Shirky, 2011). This optimistic view demonstrates the potential of social media to change the way social movements occur. While there is nothing wrong with asserting the importance of new media and emerging technologies in current social movements, a problem arises when social media are turned into a “fetish” of collective action (Gerbaudo, 2012: 8). In other words, being concerned with exclusively the efficiency of these new communication technologies can distract from what activists are actually doing with to mobilize social movements.
While many like Shirky hold an optimistic view of the use of social media in social movements, many others are pessimistic about the new trend. The term “slacktivism” refers to activism for slackers, where activist efforts are minimal and only exist to allow participants to feel like they have done something good. Examples include clicking “like” to show support for a page on Facebook, signing an online petition, writing an opinionated post regarding a social or political issue, or using a hashtag associated with a social movement. Because of “slacktivism,” social media movements rarely manifest in the physical world. Belarusian scholar Evgenyi Morozov writes in his book The Net Delusion that slacktivism is “feel good activism that has zero political or social impact but creates an illusion of having a meaningful impact on the world without demanding anything more than joining a Facebook group” (Morozov, 2011). This pessimistic view towards social media’s use as an activist platform is not uncommon among scholars who view slacktivism as useless and threatening to “real” social movements (Gerbaudo, 2012). A notable example of slacktivism is the #Kony2012 campaign started by California-based organization, Invisible Children. This organization created a thirty minute, incredibly moving video depicting Joseph Kony, a warlord who had led the Lord’s Resistance Army in abducting children in Uganda to use as child soldiers. The world rallied behind #Kony2012 on social media, sharing the video millions of time and spreading global awareness. While this public attention and awareness of these atrocities cannot hurt anything, even if it will do little to stop them, “the radical simplification of the situation in Uganda that makes Kony 2012 such an effective piece of social media is the same things that undermines it as a piece of political activism” (Kosner, 2012). While the movement increased awareness of this issue among Americans, there was not much else for them to do. The movement did not manifest into physical space, therefore did not create any change and Invisible Children shut down after facing much criticism. While this slacktivism campaign faded quickly and achieved little else than raising fleeting awareness, not all social media activism fails.
#MeToo is an extraordinary example of a successful social media activist campaign. After Milano’s initial tweet, social media quickly flooded with stories of sexual harassment and assault that women experience every day. This was monumental because it not only broke the silence around the constant harassment women face daily, but also created a safe space for survivors to be able to tell their stories and receive support and solidarity rather than shame and backlash. The hashtag reached dozens of countries and millions of people. Twitter confirmed that in less than a week, over 1.7 million tweets included the hashtag, with 85 countries having at least 1,000 #MeToo tweets. Facebook released statistics that showed in less than 24 hours, there were more than 12 million posts, comments and reactions regarding #MeToo. Forty-five percent of Facebook users in the United States. have friends who posted “me too.” This high volume of posts regarding #MeToo and the far reach on these platforms is unique. A social media analysis conducted by the PEORIA Project of George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management compared #MeToo with previous conversations about sexual harassment on social media. The research team collected 96 million tweets from 2010 through the end of 2017 that had something to do with the sexual harassment conversation. They identified those tweets by searching for hashtags that were about sexual harassment and abuse. While this sample is comprehensive of all sexual harassment conversations, the researchers also looked at #MeToo in comparison with other feminist hashtags. Unlike other feminist movement hashtags that died out quickly such as #YesAllWomen, #WhyIStayed, #YouOkSis, #ItsNotOkay and #ToTheGirls, #MeToo has cemented itself as more than a fleeting moment on social media. As of February 2018, there is consistent discussion about #MeToo on social media with 38,000 to 1 million #MeToo related tweets in the U.S. alone. This consistent discussion for a long period of time is unique. #MeToo is also distinctive from other social media movements because of the role celebrities played. While celebrities participate in social media activism all the time, their role in #MeToo is different; they are not only amplifying advocates for the cause but survivors of sexual harassment themselves. They are directly connected to this issue that also affects their friends, family and peers, so they are extremely visible and persistent in not only amplifying the message, but also making tangible steps toward change. Celebrities’ involvement in this movement raises the question of whether it would have been as successful if they were not as vocal or involved. Some people argue that if these celebrities did not have the power and platform to speak out on that they do, #MeToo would not have blown up the way it has. Others argue that the role of celebrities discredits the movement as a feminist movement because it excludes less powerful women and women of color. While the role of celebrities is controversial, their platform has undoubtedly brought attention to this issue and continues to make change.
Social Media and the Uses and Gratification Approach
The uses and gratifications theory is an approach to understanding why and how people actively seek out specific media to satisfy specific needs. According to media scholar Elihu Katz, instead of asking the question “What do the media do to people?” this approach asks, “What do people do with the media?” (Katz, 1959). Uses and gratifications has five major assumptions related to the nature of media and their users: (1) audience members are active and goal-oriented consumers of media; (2) people gratify certain needs when using media; (3) as media satisfy needs, they become sources of competition to other need-satisfying sources; (4) media users are aware of their interests and motives and have certain expectations of media that help them with media selection and need gratification; and (5) media users are the ones capable of judging the quality of media (Katz, Blumler, & Gurevitch, 1973). These assumptions provide a framework for understanding the correlation between media and its audiences.
Unlike some other media effect theories, this approach assumes that audiences are active consumers of media, so they have power over their own media consumption. This includes choosing where they get their media (and where they do not) and how they interpret and integrate it into their lives (Katz, Blumler, & Gurevitch 1973). These choices are deliberate, as they subconsciously meet the individual’s desires and needs to achieve gratification. Katz claims that audience gratifications can be derived from at least three distinct sources: media content, exposure to the media, and the social context that typifies the situation of exposure to different media (Katz, 1973). Social media meets these three criteria as it is instantly available to read, absorb and react to, especially with the use of mobile technology. This extreme accessibility makes social media a key source for information exchange and social interaction.
Nowadays, millennials utilize social media to satisfy various needs. The uses and gratification theory can help explain which social media platforms they use most and why. Millennials do not embrace a single form of social media but tend to integrate a range of tools into a bundle of media that includes online and offline forms of communication. They also embrace new forms of social media and adopt them as part of their communication routine (Quan-Haase and Young, 2010). This simultaneous use of several social media platforms suggests that each platform fulfills different user needs. For example, Facebook satisfies socially relevant needs such as staying in touch with friends and family as well as maintaining social ties. In more recent years, motivations have evolved to include entertainment, medium appeal, sense of belonging and self-documentation (Quan-Haase and Young, 2010;). Twitter is a completely different style of social media so it satisfies different user needs. Because of its fast paced nature and constant news cycle, its users utilize it for access to information of trending topics and participation in these trends. Twitter users seek information over satisfaction of social needs, which makes it different than other social media sites. Instagram and Snapchat are newer social networking sites but have been quickly adopted by millennials as a primary news communication source. Sheldon and Bryant (2016) found that Instagram and Snapchat users place less emphasis on connecting with other people and more on personal identity and self-promotion. In addition, other motives include surveillance and knowledge gathering about others and documentation of life events which includes self-promotion and displaying creativity such as photography skills.
Millennials (and most American adults) now learn most of their news from digital outlets, including social media. According to the American Press Institute (2015), 57 percent of millennials reported obtaining news from Facebook at least once a day, 26 percent from Instagram and 13 percent from Twitter. According to Pew Research, Americans are more likely than ever to get news from multiple social media sites. Facebook, with the highest number of monthly active users of any other social media site (2.2 billion), claims the largest share of social media news consumers at 45 percent of U.S. adults. 1.45 billion people on average log onto Facebook daily and are considered daily active users (Grieco, 2017). This huge number of Facebook users that are active and consistent in their visits to the site shows the impact social media has on users’ everyday lives. In a study conducted in 2009, Valenzuela found that greater use of Facebook increased the likelihood of engaging in protests because they are able to create and join groups based on common interests, thus, have more opportunities to engage in political activities. This study also found that though social media users may not initially seek out public affairs news, as social media it is increasingly incorporated into daily life, users are prone to incidental exposure which increases awareness anyway, which, in turn, increases the probability for social or political action (Valenzuela, 2009).
As mentioned before, Twitter and Facebook were the primary venues for the #MeToo movement. Millions of stories were shared on these specific social media sites because of the gratifications users received by doing so. Twitter was the original platform #MeToo spread on because the first viral #MeToo post by Alyssa Milano was on Twitter. Twitter is primarily used as an information source because of its fast past and constant news cycle, so when the Harvey Weinstein scandals broke and the #MeToo started trending, all Twitter users knew. The hashtag began trending because users began participating in this news cycle, which satisfies user needs of information knowledge and involvement in trends. However, because Twitter has a character limit on posting and is not primarily used to gratify social needs, users turned to Facebook to tell their stories and add more to the conversation. Posting a #MeToo story on Facebook gratifies various needs. First, it allows users to inform their friends and family about their experiences as well as connect with them for support. While sexual harassment and assault are sensitive topics that not everyone may be comfortable discussing online, for some, it is exactly the platform they need to have a conversation about the issue at large. Posting their #MeToo story online not only allows them to speak out about their experience in the process of trying to heal, but also gives others the courage and solidarity to seek help and support for their experiences. Facebook creates this “community of healing” that Tarana Burke talked about back when she started the me too movement in 2007. Being able to communicate with your friends online can help those who may be struggling feel a little less lonely. Another need Facebook satisfies for #MeToo participants is a sense of belonging. This can be positive in that survivors can feel a sense of community by sharing their story. However, it can also be negative in that users will simply post #MeToo to “play the victim” to receive attention. This kind of superficial gratification is not uncommon among Facebook users and can be harmful to sensitive social movements such as #MeToo. Lastly, Facebook satisfies needs of self-documentation. Many users use Facebook as a diary posting everything from what they had for lunch to an extremely personal experience like experiencing sexual harassment or assault. Utilizing Facebook in this matter is a way users satisfy needs of self-expression and connecting with others as well.
While Facebook and Twitter were not the only social media sites on which users posted #MeToo, they were the most prevalent. Their far reach, wide and diverse audience and ability to “trend” made them the optimal platform for #MeToo. Since its social media debut in October 2017, #MeToo continues to stay relevant on these social media sites with thousands of posts every week. Understanding the gratifications that participants in social media activism seek explain why the #MeToo movement blew up the internet so fast and continues to make change offline.
Impacts of the #MeToo Movement
Social media activism is a fairly new phenomenon, yet thousands of viral activist hashtags have emerged on social media in recent years. Some of these succeed and manifest into the physical world, but the majority die out quickly and are never heard of again. Many feminist hashtag campaigns since 2010 including #YesAllWomen, #WhyIStayed, #YouOkSis, #ItsNotOk, #ToTheGirls and dozens more have gone viral and died out shortly after. However, #MeToo went viral quickly, remains relevant on social media platforms and has started to move from online to offline into the physical world. While people have mixed responses to and opinions about #MeToo and social media activism, the movement continues to spread. Several prominent executives, celebrities, politicians and other powerful men have received backlash from sexual harassment allegations against them, many corporations and governments are changing how they approach sexual harassment accusations in the future, and survivors of sexual harassment are coming forward and taking action to make change.
Because the #MeToo movement went viral following the allegations against Hollywood’s high-profile producer Harvey Weinstein, as well as other members of the entertainment industry, the entertainment industry took action almost immediately. Many high-profile men accused of sexual abuse including Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Matt Lauer were fired from their jobs and condemned in the industry. These actions show that the industry wants to create a community in which women can have a voice and share their experience without being shamed or blacklisted from the industry. For example, many women who accused Weinstein of sexual harassment said that they were denied roles in many films after they denied or reported Weinstein’s advances. Because of this reason, many women refrained from reporting to maintain their careers. After the Harvey allegations, actresses including Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino said they were punished for accusing Weinstein of his crimes by being blacklisted from the industry during the prime of their careers, which affected their well-being and livelihood.
The entertainment industry continued making changes as the Screen Actors Guild introduced a clear code of conduct on harassment, detailing prohibited behavior and vowing to protect members. They state that this code of conduct “marks our rededication to upholding professional standards and addressing the toxic and often unlawful workplace culture that many of our members face on a daily basis. We expect our members to live up to these standards, including in their dealings with other members and employees” (SAG-AFTRA). These changes are accompanied by a women’s empowerment movement that sprouted from #MeToo, called the Time’s Up movement. While the two movements share similar visions, their specific goals differ. Time’s Up is a “next step” in the #MeToo movement that “addresses the systematic inequality and injustice in the workplace that have kept underrepresented groups from reaching their full potential” (Time’s Up, 2018). It was started by a group of over 300 women in Hollywood, with high-profile leaders including Reese Witherspoon, Shonda Rhimes, Gwyneth Paltrow and Meryl Streep. Most male and female celebrities dressed in all black at The Golden Globes in January 2018 to bring attention to this movement and make a statement against sexual abuse in all industries. This group’s main goal is to improve laws, employment agreements and corporate policies to enable more women to hold wrongdoers accountable, earn equal pay and be treated as equal to their male co-workers. To achieve this goal, the founders set up Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund which offers financial and legal support for women and men who have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace and want to fight it in court, but may not have the funds to do so themselves. According to GoFundMe, this fund is the most successful campaign it has ever seen, collecting more than $21 million in just two months (it was started in December 2017), and it continues to receive donations every day. Women or men are able to request aid through the website and they are matched with a lawyer whose cost is covered by the money from the fund. So far, more than 500 attorneys have offered their services to Time’s Up and over 1,800 women have requested/received help. This fund is a huge success for the #MeToo movement and the fight against sexual harassment because it enables more individuals to come forward with their stories and receive the support they need regardless of their industry, job or salary. It will allow fewer crimes of sexual abuse to go unpunished (National Women’s Law Center).
Major corporations are also making strides in fighting sexual harassment in the workplace. In December 2017, shortly after the #MeToo movement went viral, Microsoft became the first major corporation to revise its sexual harassment policies. The corporation eliminated forced arbitration agreements that required employees to resolve such claims out of court to keep them private as to not attract public or media attention. In his statement, Brad Smith, president and chief legal officer said, “If we were to advocate for legislation ending arbitration requirements for sexual harassment, we should not have a contractual requirement for our own employees that would obligate them to arbitrate sexual harassment claims. And we should act immediately and not wait for a new law to be passed. For this reason, effective immediately, we are waiving the contractual requirement for arbitration of sexual harassment claims in our own arbitration agreements for the limited number of employees who have this requirement” (Smith, 2017). The company believes that this policy shift will benefit all employees as harassers will be outed and will not advance in the company. Other major corporations including Facebook and Uber have reviewed and revised its sexual harassment training and policies as well.
Government is stepping up efforts as well. After months of numerous accusations of sexual misconduct, a majority of state legislators across the country are strengthening sexual harassment policies. In January 2018, The Associated Press conducted a 50-state review that found that almost all legislative chambers now have at least some type of written sexual harassment policy. The AP also found that more than three-fourths of the states have at least one legislative chamber that has updated its sexual harassment policy, developed specific proposals to do so, or undertaken a review of whether changes are needed (The Associated Press, 2018). A notable change came in March 2018 when New York Senate passed legislation that strengthens New York’s sexual harassment laws. State Senator Joseph Griffo announced that this legislation provides the most comprehensive response yet to sexual harassment in workplaces throughout the state. The major reforms passed include: establishing a statutory definition of sexual harassment; prohibiting the anonymity of the accused in court-approved settlements and banning mandatory sexual harassment arbitration clauses; prohibiting confidentiality agreements unless the victim requests confidentiality; expanding protections to independent contractors; creating uniform policies for all branches of state and local government; and protecting hardworking taxpayers from paying for public sector harassment settlements. Sen. Griffo said, “When you go to work, you expect to work in an environment that is free of offensive, unwanted and hostile behavior. This bill will help us to combat sexual harassment while at the same time establishing uniform standards for sexual harassment policies and how complaints are handled. It also will provide employers with model policies and training that can be utilized to ensure that no one is faced with working in a hostile environment” (NY Senate, 2018). New Jersey and Rhode Island both proposed Healthy Workplace Acts — making it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to subject an employee to abusive conduct or to permit an abusive work environment. It also prohibits an employer to retaliate in any manner against an employee because they brought legal action, or because made a charge, testified, assisted or participated in any manner in an investigation or proceeding related to the abusive conduct or work environment. New York, Tennessee and New Jersey all proposed “rape shield” statutes for civil cases. The “rape shield” statute in criminal prosecutions provides that evidence of the victim’s previous sexual conduct is not admissible except under certain prescribed circumstances, this bill would establish similar provisions in civil actions alleging conduct which constitutes as sexual assault or harassment. Massachusetts, Alabama, Oklahoma and Georgia all currently have bills proposing reviews of their policies. They range from officially defining “sexual misconduct” to establishing a sexual harassment prevention program. After months of attention on #MeToo and all of these policy changes, RAINN reported a 21 percent increase in calls to anti-sexual assault helplines after the Harvey Weinstein allegations and #MeToo movement, showing that the online conversation can persuade people to seek help offline.
While these policy changes demonstrate how the #MeToo movement has moved offline to make a real world impact, these are relatively small steps in solving the widespread sexual harassment issue. Many sexual harassment policies and laws are still active. According to a survey by the American Psychological Association in May 2018, only 32 percent of people in the United States said their employer has taken new steps to address sexual harassment in the workplace since the recent increased public and media attention surrounding the issue (APA, 2018).
#MeToo can only be effective if policymakers and elected officials support their movement and fight for them. While there are success stories of corrupt men in power facing accountability for their inappropriate actions, there are many others who have not felt the same ramifications, and continue to be supported. In the United States, many elected officials including President Donald Trump have been accused multiple time of sexual misconduct and continue to earn support from citizens. Most recently, the Supreme Court made a ruling that undermined the entire #MeToo movement, the policy changes already enacted, and all survivors of sexual abuse. Under a 5–4 ruling, the Supreme Court held that employers can use forced arbitration clauses in employment contracts to prohibit workers from banding together to take legal action over workplace issues. Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the majority: “the virtues Congress originally saw in arbitration, its speed and simplicity and inexpensiveness, would be shorn away and arbitration would wind up looking like the litigation it was meant to displace” This ruling outwardly undermines the well-being of vulnerable workers and isolates employees, but is a huge “win” for big business and President Trump, which exemplifies the dominant patriarchy that still exists in America.
While the #MeToo movement has moved offline into the physical world and has provoked numerous policy and societal changes, its impacts are relatively small steps in the battle against sexual harassment. Sexual harassment and other types of gender-based abuse is deeply rooted into our society, so to make any real progress, we must make systematic cultural change. #MeToo has aided in making this systematic change by framing sexual violence as a social and cultural problem, rather than an individual problem. Framing the issue in this way allows people to think about the broad range of actions we can take to prevent sexual violence, rather than making individuals deal with it on their own. In an interview, founder of the Me Too movement Tarana Burke said, “Harassment is a symptom of a larger, systematic pattern of exclusion for women, for people of color, and a lack of equilibrium in the power distribution of our business. If you want to solve sexual harassment, you actually need to solve all those other things.” Sexual harassment is a result of other systematic social problems that must be solved as well.
In this critical analysis of the #MeToo movement and social media activism with a uses and gratification approach, I found that those who participate in social media activism are actually “slacktivists” who rarely move their online actions and support offline. The most used social media platforms among millennials are Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, yet Facebook and Twitter are the most popular for engaging in activism. #MeToo had a strong presence on Facebook and Twitter because of the unique gratifications it offers to its users. While the #MeToo movement is has been a successful example of social media activism so far, not all social media movements succeed. For the #MeToo movement to continue to grow and make a real, impactful change, it needs to grow into a political movement offline that pursues public policy change through organizing like-minded groups with collective goals and electing officials who will fight for them. As citizens and human beings, it is our duty to put our differences aside and fight for the equality and well-being of our peers.
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