The broad public “outing” of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment allegations have emboldened women and men―from Hollywood to legislative hallways to corporate offices―to share their stories via #MeToo. More than 1.7 million tweets, featuring the “MeToo” hashtag, have been posted, signifying each individual’s experience(s) with unwanted advances and harassment. More than eighty-five countries have contributed at least 1,000 #MeToo tweets. Facebook noted that within 24 hours of the hashtag going viral, there were more than twelve million #MeToo posts, comments and reactions. This campaign is evolving from an immediate, online call to action into a longer-term movement.
This isn’t the first time that women have taken to social media to share their stories of sexual harassment. In 2014, the #YesAllWomen social media campaign was launched to raise awareness of the sexism that many women experience in daily life. Within just four days, the #YesAllWomen hashtag was tweeted over 1.2 million times. At that point, this call to action was the most successful social media campaign sharing such experiences to date.
Thanks to more widespread access to technology, the growth of social media platforms, social media participation across all demographics, and participation by public figures in the campaign and call to action, #MeToo has far surpassed awareness generated by #YesAllWomen [It is worth noting that the “Me Too Campaign” was originated in 2007―long before the hashtag era―and initiated by grass roots activist Tarana Burke as a way for survivors of sexual assault to know they were not alone.].
Often, we are faced with the negative sides of social media―from unnecessary rudeness in social media exchanges to harsher differences of opinions being posted and blatant cyber-bullying. At the same time, we need to recognize the positives that social media can achieve ―the force for good that can be achieved. The reach of #MeToo offers an often-forgotten benefit of social media platform to offer every person access to a public voice and a public audience―to be heard and seen.
Through #MeToo, our voices are calling attention to a situation that is prevalent throughout today’s society―and through this movement, it is becoming apparent that the prevalence is greater than previously understood or shared.
Taking those voices and translating them into positive action is the critical step that too often fails to materialize with online campaigns. We’ve become “slacktivists”―people who engage in token displays of support for a cause but are not likely to participate in meaningful contributions or real-life activities for the cause.
One study referenced this phenomenon. At the same time, the study pointed out that, once a connection is established between “self and cause,” meaningful support occurs. This means that great potential exists to move the #MeToo campaign into the path of a long-term movement.
The following are general actions and steps that can help #MeToo to move from social media to a movement rallying against sexual harassment in daily life:
- Hold people accountable for their actions. Women and men―continue to come forward and others will feel more comfortable doing so.
- Support comprehensive anti-harassment policies and training in the workplace. For those companies that have been conducting this training―make sure the course is up to date and require employees to attend a refresher session.
- Document and write down any incident. Write down any witnesses. Write down the actions you took or why you did not take action (that doesn’t diminish the experience).
- Remember that many, many people are in the same situation. Find a personal support system that is safe―a group, a close friend, or family member(s). This can provide comfort and empowerment.
In terms of effecting change, women, who are often harassed early in their careers, can use these experiences to call attention to what is happening and to help change the system.
From a company marketing standpoint, companies can leverage a strong anti-harassment policy and policies promoting transparency in the workplace to create a more collaborative workplace to attract higher caliber talent. Quite simply, it’s good business. Moving forward, it is becoming the gold standard.