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COLUMN: Why #MeToo is different from other hashtags



Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have erupted with “#MeToo” posts in the last few days. 

As of 6:30 p.m. Oct. 17, Facebook had seen more than 12 million posts, comments and reactions in less than 24 hours by 4.7 million users around the world. Twitter, in the same 24 hours, saw half a million tweets. 

Social media users saw these posts from friends, parents, sorority sisters, classmates, coworkers and more. Facebook reported that over 45 percent of Facebook users had a friend who posted that hashtag. 

The volume of these posts in such a short amount of time should be startling, as fellow hashtags to unite women such as #YesAllWomen were tweeted only 1.2 million times over four days. 

This may leave social media or the concerned citizen wondering why this hashtag, out of all hashtags, is going viral. Friends and family are choosing to go public with this trend but not others.

It’s because this hashtag’s primary purpose is not to push a political agenda or spark mass outrage, its primary purpose is focused on solidarity and opening eyes.

This hashtag allows victims of sexual assault to recognize they are not alone. It also allows people around the world to realize how startling the frequency of sexual assault is. 

#MeToo is even different from other solidarity-related hashtags, such as #PrayForOrlando and #LoveIsLove

#MeToo serves as a platform for victims of sexual assault to speak out about their personal experiences, possibly for the first time. 

This hashtag isn’t meant for every single person to unite behind one concept, but it is for people to speak out together and make others internalize the magnitude of this devastating issue.

For possibly the first time ever, a hashtag is being used to make people sit back and think, not actively contribute. 

The hashtag concept doesn’t ask posters to call for political action or place blame on certain systems. It is simply about showing the pervasiveness of a depravity that could hit closer to home than once thought. 

The question surrounding #MeToo then becomes: Will this spark more activism efforts or political action? The end-game of this online movement is unclear.

Viral hashtags have not always led to mobilization offline. Think #FreeKodak or #Election2016. Posting about an issue does not necessarily translate to releasing a rapper from jail or getting to the polls on Election Day. 

This hashtag’s long-term intent is ambiguous. The hope could be that more people will vote on sexual assault legislation. It could be that sexual offenders will begin to receive harsher sentences or be treated as more serious criminals.

It is unclear what will come out of the circulation of #MeToo, but there is one intention of this hashtag that is crystal clear. #MeToo forces social media users everywhere to realize that sexual assault is no small issue. 

It is real and could be affecting those closest to you. 

ccarigan@indiana.edu
@carmesanchicken

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