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.
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.
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.
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.