Following allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein this month, actress Alyssa Milano asked her Twitter followers to use the hashtag #MeToo as a way to demonstrate the widespread nature of these experiences. The saying “Me Too” in this context was first created by social and civil rights activist Tarana Burke in 2006 as a way to connect victims of sexual assault and abuse.
Since Oct. 15, Milano’s tweet has been shared over 1.7 million times, and the phrase “Me Too” has been used by more than 4.7 million people on Facebook. The platform reported that roughly 45% of Facebook users had a friend that had posted the hashtag, according to CBS News.
The #MeToo message has since become a way for victims of sexual intimidation, harassment, assault or rape to share their experiences and find support across social media platforms. Men and women have been sharing their stories across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, working to create awareness of the magnitude of victims.
The Saint Vincent College community reflected on the hashtag and the way it was received across social media platforms. Many have expressed support for the movement and the way it has been able to reach such a large amount of people.
Dr. Jessica Harvey, assistant professor of communication, commented on how social media can change perspective.
“Using the hashtag ‘Me Too’ utilizes the reach of social media, and expresses the message’s intent. This is so important because some people do not believe this is an issue, so if people can see the amount of women who have had these experiences, it could really change their perspective,” Harvey said.
Luke Good, senior marketing major, also felt that the hashtag was a positive campaign across social media platforms.
Good said, “#MeToo generates a conversation about a topic that many people do not want to discuss. It also reached such a large audience of people who might not have ever realized the magnitude of the problem.”
Good also expressed his shock at seeing so many of his peers share the message.
“People I know have had this experience. I feel that as a guy, the next move has to be to support and help these women who have spoken up,” Good said.
Claire Jackman, senior biology major, mentioned how men are responding to the hashtag.
“It’s nice to see so many guys tweeting and talking about the hashtag. They seem to be realizing how many people they know have had this type of experience. I think it’s an experience that some people don’t know how to deal with, and they want to help but they don’t know how. I’ve seen a lot of people be really supportive of their friends,” Jackman said.
Both Good and Jackman believed the most important aspect of the #MeToo campaign was to acknowledge the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment.
Critics of the movement argue that the hashtag puts a large amount of pressure on victims to share their experiences before they are ready to do so. Others state that social media platforms are an inappropriate place to discuss such personal stories. Many critics feel the hashtag asks victims to reconsider their trauma. Social media users have also reminded others that there are numerous victims who simply may not be comfortable sharing their stories.
Harvey felt that as a person who studies media and media usage in children and adults, she could see both sides of the argument.
“By using a hashtag, I can see how it in some ways can minimize the experience that victims have gone through,” Harvey said.
Harvey said that while social media can be effective, it can only go so far.
“If you keep in mind that the function of the hashtag is to communicate the amount of women who have experienced this, then the campaign is effective. The depth of the experiences and the emotions felt cannot be communicated through social media alone, but other forms of media, like a blog post, a documentary, or a video would be a very effective way to communicate that message,” Harvey said. “Social media is a medium that can only achieve so much.”
Dr. Margaret Watkins, associate professor of philosophy, reflected on how #MeToo can be helpful for the Saint Vincent community.
“I hope it makes people feel that they can talk about their experiences. I also hope men hear these stories, and that it promotes conversations between men and women,” Watkins said. “We have a social problem that has not gone away, and we cannot make progress if we can’t talk about these experiences with one another.”
Watkins was not surprised by the magnitude of victims who had experienced sexual assault and harassment once she understood the breadth of the hashtag.
“I wasn’t surprised, but I was impressed with the willingness of victims to share their experiences. This is a difficult topic to discuss, and I admired those who felt they could do it,” Watkins said.
Watkins did not feel that using social media platforms diminished the validity of the victims who posted their stories.
Dr. Harvey encourages students who are interested in learning more about the role of media and how it can be used to successfully communicate meaningful messages to participate in “Media Literacy Week” which will be held from Nov. 6-10.
Photos: Milano's Twitter, Christian Hartmann/ Reuters, SVC Review Twitter