Social Media is Changing the Way we Discuss Sexual Assault

Social media has given us a lot of things over the years: the ability to learn how to take the perfect selfie from Kim K, to get into heated debates over the colors of a dress, and to tweet both our political and personal grievances directly at @realdonaldtrump. While these uses for social media alone might be enough to convince you that social media is a tool worthy of our highest praise and admiration, I would argue that social media has given us something far more important, especially in recent months. That is, the ability to not only speak up publicly when things are wrong, but to also initiate real change at the same time.

While advocacy on social media platforms is nothing new, the fact that the entertainment industry in particular is now actually delivering punishments to those accused of sexual assault through social media posts by the victims, is something that the world has been waiting to see until just recently. For instance, when the Access Hollywood video of Donald Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women leaked last year, a #NotOkay hashtag condemning sexual assault started to trend on Twitter. However, not only was nothing done about Trump’s actions, but he also went on to win nothing short of the title of the President of the United States of America following the video’s release.

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Now however, after the Harvey Weinstein scandal surfaced last month, more victims than ever are turning to social media to share their stories. The #MeToo movement, which was originally started by activist Tarana Burke over 10 years ago, took on new life after actress Alyssa Milano asked her twitter followers to post their stories of sexual abuse alongside the #MeToo hashtag to show the world how widespread the issue has become. The #MeToo hashtag exploded on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms overnight and has remained on the lips of those discussing sexual assault since Milano’s original tweet.

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Since the #MeToo hashtag went viral, more victims in the entertainment industry have become inspired to share their stories of sexual assault by prominent industry leaders and stars over social media. Among the most famously accused are Gossip Girl actor Ed Westwick, House of Cards star Kevin Spacey, actor and director Ben Affleck, and as of just yesterday, comedian Louis C.K. Westwick’s accusers took to Facebook to share their stories and Affleck’s accusers took to Twitter. While Louis C.K.’s accusers and Spacey’s accusers used traditional news sources (The New York Times and BuzzFeed News respectively) to give their accounts of assault, these accusations have gone viral on social media platforms and both #louisck and #kevinspacey have been trending on Twitter since the accusations were first made.

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While many victims of sexual assault choose not to come forward with their stories for a variety of extremely valid reasons, social media now allows victims to connect with one another in unprecedented ways. Seeing someone post #MeToo on their Facebook wall or Twitter feed can make a fellow surviver not feel so alone in their struggle, and can even encourage a healing dialogue between the two that would have never occurred otherwise.

Many of the victims of the aforementioned entertainment industry leaders claimed that they would have never come forward publicly if not for being inspired by the bravery and candor displayed other by other victims of sexual assault. In her Facebook post detailing her harrowing assault by Ed Westwick, actress Kristina Cohen writes “I hope my coming forward will help others to know that they are not alone, that they are not to blame, and it is not their fault. Just as the other women and men coming forward have helped me to realize the same.”

With social media at their fingertips, victims of high-profile assaults no longer have to try to convince a news organization of their story’s validity or hold a formal press conference in order to release a statement, rather, they can choose to share their stories in their own words instantaneously with the world.

However, since social media has made it easier for victims to share their stories publicly, it has also led certain figures in the entertainment industry to perceive the uptick in accusations as a “witch hunt atmosphere.” While it is true that these recent accusations made have led to consequences for those accused (Spacey has been fired from his role on House of Cards, Louis C.K.’s movie premiere for “I Love You, Daddy” has been cancelled etc.), no legal action will take place before the accused are proven guilty by a jury of their peers. Furthermore, in a reference to a great quote I once heard regarding this subject, the current status of the entertainment industry cannot qualify as an unfair “witch hunt environment” because witches by definition do not exist, however sexual predators, unfortunately, very much do exist.

It will be interesting over the next few years to see how social media affects advocacy on not only on topics like sexual assault, but on race, gender roles and beyond. For now though, there is no denying that social media has influenced the conversation surrounding sexual assault and hopefully will continue to provide a more transparent environment for discussion and hold guilty parties accountable for their actions.

 

11 comments

  1. This was a great post. I definitely think it’s interesting that social media acts as a place where people share funny memes, but also reveal something so personal like a #metoo message. Personally, I struggle seeing the mix on my newsfeed. There are so many people I’m “friends” with on Facebook that I would not choose to share such intimate details about myself with. At the same time, social media is such a powerful tool to not only spread awareness, but also show support for one and other. For me, the idea that anything you post is so permanent prevents me from posting anything too personal or too serious in fear that I might regret it. I think this goes to the fine line between getting caught up in the moment and possibly sharing something you’ll later regret. I say this only because topics like sexual assault are so delicate. I’m curious how movements like this will evolve and the overall purpose of social media sites will change as people are more comfortable sharing more about themselves.

  2. I think this is a really good example of how social media can empower people, give a voice to the “voiceless” and start conversations that (hopefully) will eventually ignite change! In addition to the “#metoo” hashtag, there has also been a “ItWasMe” hashtag trending. This hashtag is being used by men to take responsibility for their wrongdoings and contributions. It is cool to see how social media is not only helping people speak up about horrible things that have happened to them, but it is also helping people take a step in the right direction towards taking responsibility for their actions.

  3. This is a really interesting post. I’ve noticed that over the past couple weeks as more and more of these accusations come out I feel less of a surprised and outraged reaction. I wonder if this is becoming so common that we might become desensitized to these events, which would be very counterproductive. It would be horrible if these occurrences become so common that they turn into something we feel that we can overlook. On the other hand, it is nice that campaigns like #MeToo form a sense of community for people who have undergone such an inherently lonely experience. Lastly, not to undermine the validity of these accusations, but it seems like it is very easy to destroy someone’s reputation with sexual assault allegations without going through the legal system. I would worry that this could eventually be taken advantage of which would be extremely harmful to both the accused and to people who actually are victims.

  4. @mariellemarcus1 makes some really great points. I do agree that social media is a useful tool in forming communities around sexual assault and can be a powerful step forward in the healing process, making it easier for other victims and survivors to come forward and talk about their experiences. I also agree that the legal system needs to change drastically regarding these accusations because it is incredibly easy for people to post online, and although the vast majority of accusations tend to be true (99%), there still are people that will falsely accuse, especially during times when many people come forward. I’m curious to see how these scandals will shape the media industry in general from here on out, and hopefully we will see change as more people see that this is a pressing issue for both celebrities as well as average Americans.

  5. This was an awesome post! I think it’s amazing how these accusations have gone viral thanks to social media. It seems like it was so easy to sexually assault someone because they were getting away with it for so long. In the entertainment industry image means everything and these recent findings have truly destroyed reputations (Kevin Spacey being fired). I’m hoping that after seeing the consequences that Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein have suffered, other potential predators will be persuaded to not harm anyone.

  6. Social media gives such a large voice to causes like this. I love how you brought up that the social media platforms allow survivors a way to bond together and feel brave enough to share their story when they aren’t alone. I think it’s really interesting to see things like this and think how amazing it is that the internet can facilitate these events that bring everyone together from all over the world. It would be even more interesting to see how this trend differs from country to country. Did you find any research on that?

  7. Sexual assault has been present in the entertainment industry. An ongoing joke in the industry is that you have to go up to the ‘Casting Couch’ where producers have their way with an actress who needs the role. To believe that this is just a recent event, would to be misinformed. I think it has gone on so long, because people are not willing to stand up to powerful individuals in the entertainment industry out of fear of reprisal which would hurt there personal motivations. As I think that the use of social media to raise funds for hurricane victims, I also thing this is a good use of social media to help bring change to a corrupt industry.

  8. It has certainly been interesting to watch the events unfold over the past month. I’m surprised at how many people I know have joined in the #metoo campaign.

  9. Great and extremely relevant post! Social Media has truly given hundreds of people confidence and support to come out and oust sexual predators. In the past, people have not had the means, support and legitimacy to come out and accuse people of doing horrible things, but now that other people are doing it, people now have this confidence. Social media is a great platform for people to do this.

  10. I really loved this post Claire! I am so glad you chose to address it as it has become such a relevant topic within media today, and I think it has had such a big impact due to the amount of people who have chosen to get involved. The almost “safe space” this campaign has created – giving survivors the confidence and courage to speak out is amazing.

    I actually found this article where Stanford scientists have analyzed the affect of this campaign thus far:
    http://scopeblog.stanford.edu/2017/10/17/metoo-stanford-scholars-weigh-in-on-social-campaign-exposing-sexual-assault/

    It talks about the benefits and community that victims can find when they choose to speak out. They are no longer alone, and become more comfortable with being vulnerable – untimely creating a ripple effect.

  11. Very good post on at highly relevant and sensitive topic. I like how you mentioned that social media gives sexual assault victims a voice and opportunity to share their stories in their own words. Words are an incredibly powerful tool and when victims share these stories it gives people inside look on how profoundly these assaults have impacted their lives and how much of a problem this is in our society.

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