WASHINGTON — The joke about social media is that Twitter is where we tell the truth to strangers and Facebook is where we lie to our friends.
This week, though, Facebook came through as a forum for truth as women across the country unspooled their tales of sexual harassment and abuse under the #MeToo hashtag — and the movement is already having real-world consequences.
It was popularized by a post on Twitter from Alyssa Milano, but then it spread — and spread and spread — as women considered their own lives. They talked to their sisters and their mothers and their roommates and their friends. They saw the words of acquaintances and professional heroes and the whole vast network of thin relationships and mustered up their courage and decided, yes, this time I will speak up, even if only to cut and paste the #MeToo language that was going viral, without any details.
If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too.” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.
Within the first 24 hours of the hashtag, there were more than 12 million posts, comments and reactions from 4.7 million people, according to Facebook — and more than 45 percent of Facebook users in the U.S. were friends with someone who had posted, “Me Too.” Though the company said it does not have more recent data, there’s not question the ultimate reach of the hashtag was even larger, as fresh posts continued to appear well into Thursday.
And with #MeToo, a company under siege for its missteps on undisclosed Russian campaign advertising and content-neutral help for controversial social activists emerged as the platform for the latest twist in a women’s uprising that went mainstream with the marches in January.
Call it the ultimate Lean In Circle. “Women accomplish amazing things when we support each other,” reads the tagline for the small peer groups envisioned by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg that are a cross between 1960s consciousness-raising gatherings and 1720s mutual improvement clubs.
Now that supportive consciousness-raising has moved back online, validated with hearts and angry and sad face emoticons, in a textbook example of what Facebook can be used for when it’s working right.
While Twitter reported more than 1.2 million tweets using the hashtag #MeToo between Sunday at noon and Wednesday at noon — and that’s not even counting retweets or non-hashtag mentions of “me too”— the Facebook conversation is what has made this moment so powerful.
And while some have criticized it as just another blip in the viral outrage factory, of sparking acts of performative allyship from men wanting to be seen as supportive and coercive confessions from women who might otherwise prefer to be silent, it has begun to have real consequences offline.
For the first time ever, there is a real solidarity around these questions. Not a performative solidarity — thought that certainly exists — but the real solidarity that comes from hearing the stories of your real-life friends. Men are chiming in in shock, wondering what to do. And women are learning things about their female friends, their colleagues, even their relatives, they did not know before.
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Friends are the ultimate influencers, as any political operative will tell you. A political message coming from a friend is many times more powerful than a message coming from a politician or a volunteer. Friends are the ultimate endorsers of brands, recommenders of content, and validators of our views of the world. And the conversation about sexual harassment and abuse that the Weinstein story broke open is now taking place in friend circles — as well as friendly professional ones, as many workplace colleagues are also connected on Facebook.
The torrent of stories about Harvey Weinstein has opened up space for on-the-record stories about less well-known men, and the writing of #metoo posts has encouraged some women to come forward publicly for the first time with older allegations. That has led to a spate of accusations, resignations and firings in Hollywood and the media — where the scandal started — though the circle is slowly widening to encompass other sectors as well, such as politics and political advocacy.
A freelance journalist was dropped by Vice after an anonymous Facebook post inspired by #metoo publicly accused him of sexual harassment, which he then admitted and apologized for. British GQ canned political writer Rupert Myers following online allegations. Vox Media’s editorial director Lockhart Steele was fired after an old Human Resources complaint resurfaced in a Medium post by a female developer about the lack of consequences for sexual harassment at her old workplace.
Amazon Studios head Roy Price was suspended after being publicly accused of sexual harassment, and he then quit the company. Andy Signore, creator of “Honest Trailers” and the Screen Junkies fan site that is part of Defy Media, was accused of sexual harassment by at least five women and fired after a brief investigation for his “egregious and intolerable behavior.”
“The Loud House” showrunner Chris Savino was fired by Nickelodeon following a brief suspension when allegations of sexual harassment, reportedly from a dozen women, surfaced. In France, the M6 television station suspended La France a un Incroyable Talent — a French version of America’s Got Talent — for the rest of the season after show judge Gilbert Rozon was accused of sexual harassment; Rozon also stepped down as president of Montreal’s Just For Laughs comedy festival.
Tech evangelist Robert Scoble was publicly accused of sexual harassment by three women and also, in a Medium post, of sexual assault. Weinstein’s brother Bob Weinstein was accused of sexual harassment by a female showrunner who worked on a Weinstein Co. project. A woman who in 2016 filed a police report alleging a 2004 rape by magician David Blaine told her story to the press. A top official at the Service Employees International Union was suspended.
In California, more than 140 female lawmakers, legislative aides and lobbyists issued a joint letter decrying the abuse they said they had been subjected to in the state capital. “Each of us has endured, or witnessed or worked with women who have experienced some form of dehumanizing behavior by men in power in our workplaces,” they said. And on Meet the Press this coming Sunday, female members of the United States Senate are discussing their “me too” moments on camera. “I explained to him the bill I had, and did he have any advice for me on how I could get it out of committee. And he looked at me and he paused and he said, ‘Well, did you bring your knee pads?’” recounts Sen. Claire McCaskill of her days as young legislator trying to get her bill out of committee in the Missouri statehouse.
It seems certain that there will be many more stories told before all is said and done, and many more consequences.
The anger and the stories have been there all along. An ABC News-Washington Post poll released this week found that more than half of American women say they have been on the receiving end of “unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances,” with 30 percent coming from male colleagues. The top emotion they felt about these advances was anger, according to the poll. The second-most frequent reaction was feeling intimidated.
Now, supported by their networks of friends and supporters, they are speaking up.
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