How a Hashtag Sparked a Movement that Shocked the World

In the wake of the sentencing of disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein, it is hard to believe that the exposure of his heinous crimes and the extent of the cover-ups came with a simple two-word hashtag, #MeToo As women and even men stood in solidarity, sharing detailed stories of pain or simply just spreading awareness of the extent of the crimes, for the last few months of 2017, posts stating #MeToo overwhelmed social media. Over three years on, the #MeToo has expanded the discussion of sexual abuse in a multitude of industries, with names of prolific sex offenders in the entertainment being exposed on the regular. From comedians like Louis CK, to actors like Bill Cosby and most notoriously, the biggest name attached to the #MeToo movement is movie producer Harvey Weinstein. In a world so powered by social media and digital technology, just how powerful is a hashtag?

#MeToo Before 2017

While the #MeToo movement picked up the most steam in October 2017, when actress Alyssa Milano shared her story of abuse and posed the question on Twitter “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,” followed up by the Tweet reply, “Me Too”. From that day on, a movement sparked and before too long, the movement picked up speed and soon stories of abuse involving multitudes of politicians, executives, entertainers and other figures in a range of different industries came to light. While 2017 may have been the landmark year of the #MeToo movement, the original #MeToo hashtag was first used by civil rights activist Tarana Burke, who used the hashtag on Myspace to help break the silence of sexual abuse. There were a few other smaller movements since, but it was in light to the stories that were coming to the surface particularly about Harvey Weinstein that sparked the momentum behind the 2017 use of #MeToo.

Why a Hashtag?

The word hashtag has been co-opted and used quite ironically over the last few years as the world of social media has penetrated our daily lives. While it may be a word in a vernacular that we use to make fun of people like Instagram influencers, you cannot deny just how genius and perfect the hashtag is when it comes to sparking a trend or a movement. For those not in the know, a hashtag is used as a search function of a social media website. If you type #Blessed into Instagram, your feed suddenly is flooded by beautiful women on the beach #livingtheirbestlife, and to be honest, don’t we all wish that was us. If you are looking for a particular interest, for example #dogsofInstagram, you will be happy to find some of the most good boys on the internet (and by boys, we do mean actual dogs- the ones that bark and make us happy). So isn’t it genius to start a movement with a simple hashtag, that can unite a whole group of people? Sexual assault is something that can be quite isolating and often be kept behind closed doors, but by giving people the option to simply just type that hashtag #MeToo into Twitter, they are immediately connected to other people affected- taking out the loneliness. Whether they want to share the entire story or just simply put those two words, women were able to find that connection.

The Power Behind the Hashtag

When something goes viral on the Internet, it quite quickly becomes saturated across our platforms. Who could forget when you could barely go anywhere or search for anything on the internet without coming across Gangnam Style? Well when a hashtag like #MeToo goes viral, then it takes away something that many sexual assault victims have, isolation, loneliness, shame and power. There is always strength in numbers and as the hashtag spread across the world and the numbers rose, women were able to give each other voices in a way that they never had before. As the stories were posted, particularly those involving Weinstein, then it gave credibility to the other stories that had been swept under the rug previously. No longer able to be ignored, the #MeToo put the power back in the survivor’s hands and as Weinstein today was sentenced to 23 years behind bars, you cannot deny the power of something as simple as the humble hashtag.