The #Power of Hashtags

By Cathy Barlow | March 13, 2018

Social media gets lots of criticism for failing to stop bullying and hate crimes, but we’ve recently seen how its power to draw people together can be used for good.

The Weinstein Case

The BBC recently released a timeline which summarised the events following last October’s New York Times story, detailing decades of allegations of sexual harassment against Hollywood film-maker Harvey Weinstein.

Leading Hollywood actors immediately spoke out. Lena Dunham said that those who opened up about what they’d been through deserved our awe, explaining it’s not easy but it’s brave. The allegations made headlines and, deservedly, dominated the news cycle.

In the days that followed, an increasing number of actors, included Meryl Streep and Dame Judi Dench, reacted to the allegations with disgust and described the women who spoke out as ‘heroes’ in an interview with The Huffington Post.

The ‘Me Too’ movement existed long before the Weinstein case but many, like me, hadn’t seen it on their feeds. It was created by social activist Tarana Burke after being stuck as to the best way to respond to a 13-year-old girl who told her she had been sexually assaulted back in 2006. Burke later wished she’d simply responded, ‘me too’. It was ten days after the Weinstein allegations broke that ‘#MeToo’ began to gain momentum.

#MeToo Goes Viral

On the 15 October 2017, actor Alyssa Milano encouraged women who had been sexually harassed or assaulted to write ‘Me too’ as a status to give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Whilst sexual harassment doesn’t just affect women, statistically speaking, they are five times more likely to be harassed or assaulted than men, with one in five women being targeted.

#MeToo is more than a hashtag, it’s a voice. For many women it was the first time they’ve chosen to tell anyone of their experiences. #MeToo has been used over a million times. And this is just the people who chose to tell their story online.

Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lawrence and Bjork are all amongst the long list of celebrities who’ve joined the movement. When these celebrities publicly shared their stories, it empowered their fans to do so too. Fans who had been previously left feeling like an anomaly, or who’d felt ignored, could relate to someone they admire. And they were all connected by the simple use of a hashtag.

Social Good

The #MeToo trend doesn’t just highlight the scale a problem, it also illuminates the power of ‘social good’. Social media gave victims a voice which they’d previously been stripped off and united millions of people.

It’s often criticised for failing to tackle hate crimes and bullying, but, if used correctly, social media can add value to society. In my opinion, this movement will change the way we discuss social issues in the future. We’ve seen the power social media has to highlight the magnitude of problems, and unify a marginalised group, through something as simple as a hashtag and the attention it can gain.

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