The #MeToo movement came about largely due to the influence of two women. The international reach and immediate adoption of #MeToo was unprecedented, especially when traced to its grassroots origins.
Tarana Burke, American civil rights activist, originally created the “me too” phraseology over ten years ago. However, it wasn’t until actress Alyssa Milano sent out a Tweet last year that the movement gained widespread publicity. Without realizing that Tarana had previously used the same wording, Milano asked readers who had been sexually assaulted or abused to respond to her tweet with the “MeToo” hashtag.
Within 24 hours of Milano’s initial post on Twitter, over 30,000 women had responded with the #MeToo hashtag. The immediate and vast response to Milano’s one Tweet rivaled the success of the most well planned traditional PR campaign. The fact that no formal campaign took place prior to the enthusiastic support on Twitter deserves both praise and analysis. Let’s take a look at why this campaign was so successful on an international level despite its relatively minimal planning.
Strength in numbers
Since the widespread adoption of the #MeToo movement, Burke and Milano have joined together in order to further their cause and increase the conversation about sexual assault in various social circles. Their seemingly modest conversation quickly spread throughout the nation and to 36 different countries worldwide. What was it about this particular tweet that resonated so deeply with women that it literally became viral overnight?
The nature of the topic itself certainly had something to do with it. While the idea of sexual assault certainly isn’t pleasant, Twitter provided an outlet for many women who had been silently suffering to unite together in their shared trauma. The hashtag was more about changing the social conversation in our nation and being honest about personal tragedy than it was about building a brand or furthering the work of a company.
“The recent momentum generated by the #MeToo trend on social media and by mainstream media coverage of sexual violence is making an impact on our society and our campus,” says Tiffany Turley, Title IX Coordinator at Brigham Young University. “Victims are starting to see that they are not alone. They feel that they are supported and that they no longer need to hide behind a wall of self-doubt and a culture of victim blaming. By bringing this issue to light, victims no longer need to live in the dark.”
While women certainly faced vulnerability and potential judgment when responding to Milano’s tweet, sexual assault survivors often feel stronger when connected with other people. Once a few brave women responded to the tweet, the responses came pouring in by the thousands.
Across the board
Another aspect of the #MeToo campaign idea was that women from all backgrounds, nationalities and socioeconomic statuses could relate and participate. The messaging behind the idea was clear and did not rely on one particular cultural background in order to make sense to readers.
The requirement for participation was extremely low and quite literally consisted of typing six characters into a Twitter response. There was no requirement to be part of an elaborate campaign and fully participating contributors were not even required to be physically present. Women from all walks of life came together in a beautiful way as they voiced their experiences, some of them for the first time.
“There’s something really empowering about standing up for what’s right,” says Susan Fowler, who was featured in TIME magazine’s “Silence Breaker’s” feature. “It’s a badge of honor.”
Relatability and reach
The unfortunate statistic is that one in four women will experience sexual assault of some kind during their lifetimes. Even if a woman hasn’t personally been assaulted, she likely knows another woman who has been sexually abused in some way. Although the topic is a relatively uncomfortable one, almost every woman can relate in at least a small degree.
“I thought it was really cool to see people that I know personally as well as big name people who had a similar experience,” says Maggie Kuta, a feminist and budding PR professional. “I think it has enacted change. We have seen people receive justice for their actions and a lot of women have been empowered by knowing they are not alone and being able to receive the help that they need.”
With 80% of the world’s population with internet access, this movement wasn’t limited to a United States-based audience. Women all over the world already had the tools they needed (i.e. a smartphone and the internet) to be part of the movement. Milano’s tweet provided them with a compelling emotional element and an easily accessible platform that allowed women to take action quickly. Since 2017, #MeToo has trended in 85 countries. https://www.bustle.com/p/this-is-how-many-people-have-posted-me-too-since-october-according-to-new-data-6753697
As we can see from the #MeToo campaign, social media can be used as a powerful tool to create conversation and impact people. Women from all over the world came together as a result of one tweet. An international conversation took place, bringing needed awareness to the sexual assault issue. The campaign gave formerly silent females the opportunity to speak up and break the silence surrounding past abuse. Your ability to influence national conversations as a PR professional is powerful.
Written by Heidi Phelon