#MeToo: Can a viral hashtag end sexual harassment and abuse?

#MeToo: Can a viral hashtag end sexual harassment and abuse?

On Sunday afternoon, American actress Alyssa Milano tweeted an idea which sparked a viral hashtag movement against sexual assault and harassment.


The tweet was a simple call to arms: for everyone who has experienced some form of sexual assault or harassment to write ‘me too’ as their online status, in order to “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem” (Alyssa_Milano, 2017).


@alyssa_milano #MeToo

By Monday night, more than 53,000 people had left comments on Alyssa’s tweet and the hashtag #MeToo had gone viral. On Twitter, #MeToo racked up nearly a million tweets in 48 hours and on Facebook there were more than 12 million posts, comments and reactions in less than 24 hours (CBS, 2017).


This hashtag frenzy was part of a wider discussion about sexual harassment following the Harvey Weinstein scandal that began to unfold earlier this month. For Alyssa Milano, the aim was “to shift the conversation away from the predator and to the victim” (Chen, 2017).


But this didn’t go down so well with some commentators, who questioned why it should be left to the victims of sexual assault and harassment to fix the problem:


It is not our responsibility to rip open our wounds and expose our trauma in a solidarity ritual just so you can finally acknowledge there is a problem with men’s violence toward women.


Matilda Dixon-Smith makes another worthwhile point: we already know that sexual misconduct is a widespread problem in our society. Is yet another viral hashtag really going to change anything?


Yes, sexual violence is an epidemic — but we don’t need a hashtag to tell us that.


#MeToo phone
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Thinstock.


Can #MeToo end sexual abuse and harassment?


The problem I initially had with the #MeToo campaign was that at first glance it appeared to be yet another case of viral slacktivism, which has been defined as “a willingness to perform a relatively costless, token display of support for a social cause, with an accompanying lack of willingness to devote significant effort to enact meaningful change” (Kristofferson et al, cited in Lane & Dal Cin, 2017, p.3). In the case of #MeToo, there was no concrete follow-up in mind – just another attempt to generate awareness around something we already know.


Of course this left me feeling guilty, not only as a woman but particularly as my online social feeds starting filling with stories from friends who had also experienced the horrible realities of this epidemic.


But it also got me thinking about their courage. As Lane and Dal Cin acknowledge and as I pointed out in an earlier post, “online sharing is often viewed as low-cost participation (because it is fast and easy to accomplish), but sharing social and political views online is in fact a highly delicate matter” (2017, p.4). This could not be more true of #MeToo. Activist Lauren Taylor notes that “women are disclosing that they’ve been harassed, attacked or abused, sometimes for the first time, and if it isn’t for the first time, it’s for the first time this publicly” (CBS, 2017). At the individual level, this is huge.


Nonetheless, I still hope that #MeToo is just the beginning of a broader movement against sexual abuse. I share Gerbaudo’s view that online activism should complement more traditional forms of face-to-face gatherings to minimize the risk of feelings of seclusion that social media can create (2012, p.13)


I personally couldn’t bring myself to share the hashtag online, despite being the victim of multiple instances of sexual harassment over the years. I applaud the courage of all women (and men) who have spoken out in pursuit of a world in which predatory sexual behaviour is a thing of the past.


If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000. 

Men can access anonymous confidential telephone counselling to help to stop using violent and controlling behaviour through the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491.






  1. Lou Hellberg

    Thank you for an interesting post Taryn.

    I personally do not believe that a viral hashtag campaign like #MeToo can end sexual harassment and abuse, but it can on the other hand help to raise awareness of the issue, which can lead to meaningful change in the long run.

    Although the #MeToo campaign is appearing to be a case of slacktivism as you mentioned, it can work to create awareness of the issue, as well as empower women to resist sexual harassment, and by that help to forward the message that such behavior is unacceptable.

    Sadly though, this campaign by its aggravate outrage of digital punishment is not likely to have a positive impact on the perpetrators, and can even lead them to feeling less human. This is something that Yale professor Molly Crockett discusses in her article Moral Outrage in the Digital Age, where says that moral outrage in the digital age will work to deepen social divides by dehumanizing the targets of outrage.

    I still value the initiative of this campaign and like said, this is huge at the individual level of the women taking part of it.

    1. Taryn Sadler

      Hi Lou, thanks so much for your comment. I hadn’t come across Crockett’s work before this but it’s a really interesting point to keep in mind when thinking about the #MeToo campaign. I would probably argue that #MeToo is more about the victims than the perpetrators, but then again it’s up to the individual to decide if they want to elaborate on the hashtag by morally punishing the perpetrator. When it comes to extreme cases of sexual misconduct though, I think there might be some room for outrage.

  2. Mariia Lypiatska

    Hi Taryn!
    It was really interesting for me to read your post as I have also chosen #metoo hashtag for my recent post.
    The conclusion I came to is slightly different. I agree with you, that this hashtag as many others before will not dramatically change the situation. But from what I have seen and read in the media, I have got a feeling that this time more and more women start not only to understand that the issue of sexual harassment is endemic, but that it’s somehow normalised in our society (I am not talking about extreme cases here, more about silly sexist jokes or objectivisation of women that hardly any women nowadays has avoided). And talking about it, I believe, is a first step towards realising that this is no more acceptable.

    Cheers/ Maria

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