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Will #MeToo be just another viral trend?

Some doubt whether this revived movement to highlight sexual abuse will help the cause much

#ITWASME AND #IHAVE, IN THE WAKE OF #METOO

A hashtag has revived a 10-year-old movement which dealt with sexual abuse and assault, and is taking the social media world by storm.

The hashtag #MeToo is based on the Me Too movement started by black activist Tarana Burke, 44, in 2007 to provide "empowerment through empathy".

Ms Burke started it to shed light on the exploitation and harassment suffered by women in underprivileged communities, who typically did not have access to rape crisis centres or counsellors.

In an interview with magazine Ebony, Ms Burke says the hashtag was a "catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor, to let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing was happening and possible".

She adds that it was not meant to be a viral campaign that is "here today and forgotten tomorrow".

A decade on, the movement has been revived as a hashtag after actress Alyssa Milano tweeted a call last Sunday to survivors of sexual abuse in the wake of the scandal surrounding producer Harvey Weinstein.


A social media post using the hashtag #MeToo. Close to five million people used the hashtag in less than 24 hours, after actress Alyssa Milano tweeted a call last Sunday to survivors of sexual abuse. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/ ZANDRA PIXIE

She posted: "If you've been sexually harassed or assaulted write 'me too' as a reply to this tweet."

The message has been retweeted and liked more than 75,000 times.

Weinstein has been accused by more than 40 performers, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Mira Sorvino, Ashley Judd and Rose McGowan.

Close to five million people used the hashtag #MeToo in less than 24 hours, with over 12 million posts, comments and reactions. Millions more had their say on Twitter.

The outpouring of emotional testimonials has sparked similar movements in other countries.

In France, #BalanceTonPorc has started trending.

The hashtag, which means "rat out your pig", was kicked off by French journalist Sandra Muller, who had been sexually harassed by a high-powered executive.

It escalated to the point where France's Gender Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa proposed putting forward a Bill that would fine people for street harassment, such as aggressive catcalling.

Men have also started using #IHave or #ItWasMe to confess that they had been complicit or taken part in sexual harassment or assault.

A typical post reads: "#IHave crossed the line when it comes to flirtation and harassment; #IHave objectified women; #IHave traded affection for sex and treated sex as some sort of social contract; #IHave looked the other way…"

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One male social media user posted: "Just because most of us are not criminal offenders, doesn't mean we haven't at times reinforced the environment. Hear what millions of women are saying; know that it is hard; respond with compassion."

Often,the perpetrator remains in the same shared social media network as the victim. But an unintended consequence of such confessions is that there have been instances of witch hunts or trials by mobs where users wrongly identify offenders and victims.

While discussions on sexual harassment are sorely needed in social media, some people have also pointed out that a deluge of posts might not help the cause much.

As Alexandra Schwartz from The New Yorker says: "The megaphone of social media can't be used to ask the many for forgiveness that only one person can give."

TO BE BOUGHT

Facebook bought teen-focused app TBH (short for To Be Honest) for an estimated US$100 million (S$136 million) last week.

Not too shabby for the developers who only came up with the app in early August.

TBH, only available in the United States and on the iOS, allows teen users to compliment each other anonymously through polls about people in their contact list.

The polls come in bundles of 15 questions and users select the contact they have in mind from four options, such as "I will marry them", "Who is most likely to be president" and "Who would you most likely go on a road trip with?".

The catch is that TBH only pushes out polls that are "uplifting". The website's mission says: "We built TBH because we believe that social networks should make us feel better about ourselves - not worse."

The app now has about 2.5 million daily active users.

Observers say TBH is part of Facebook's attempts to connect with younger users who might be drawn to other social networks.

The acquisition also allows them to absorb a nascent competitor before it becomes a threat.

A spokesman for Facebook said details of the deal will not be disclosed, but the four creators of TBH have officially become employees of Facebook.

TURNING TO SOCIAL MEDIA NOT ALWAYS THE RIGHT MOVE

In the absence of reliable information, rumours run rampant.

A new study has revealed that victims, particularly students whose campuses were locked down after a shooting incident, are most exposed to conflicting information and undergo the most physiological stress if they get their updates from unofficial channels.

The survey findings, conducted by the National Academy of Sciences with 3,890 students, were released last week.

The study's lead author Nickolas M. Jones says: "If random people you don't know are tweeting information that seems really scary - and, in particular, if you're in a lockdown and someone is tweeting about multiple shooters - that's anxiety-provoking."

Researchers found that heavy social media users who sought updates from social media and loved ones encountered the most misinformation.

They also felt the most anxiety, while students who relied on traditional news sources did not have the same experience.

The study recommends that those caught up in a tragedy keep in contact with officials handling the emergency, and they also need to practise discernment.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 22, 2017, with the headline 'Will #MeToo be just another viral trend?'. Print Edition | Subscribe