Once a mighty force on social media, #metoo’s viral power has lost steam five years since it exploded. The movement behind the hashtag now wants to find new ways to reach supporters beyond the digital space.
Searches for “metoo” on Google rapidly rose after the October 2017 New York Times exposé about Harvey Weinstein—the Hollywood production head accused of sexual harassment and assault by dozens of women, 100 as of a 2020 count—put a spotlight on gender-based violence. On October 15, 2017, actress Alyssa Milano encouraged her Twitter followers to discuss their own experiences of sexual harassment and assault using the words “me too,” which turned into a hashtag that soon went viral.
It didn’t end there. As Google Trends shows, interest in #metoo reached its peak a year later, around the time that Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed as an associate justice of the US Supreme Court despite multiple allegations of sexual assault or misconduct against him (Kavanaugh denied any wrongdoing).
It didn’t help that he was nominated by then-president Donald Trump, who himself has been accused of sexual misconduct by nearly two dozen women. (In 2021, US Democratic senators found the FBI had failed to properly investigate the accusations against Kavanaugh.)
But after the Kavanaugh uproar, the buzz gradually tapered off. It didn’t tick up even when Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison in March 2020.
“Me Too” existed before social media
“Me Too” is a movement that predates social media.
The term was coined by activist Tarana Burke in 2006, when she founded the nonprofit organization Just Be Inc, to help survivors of sexual harassment and abuse. It came to her after she redirected a teen sexual abuse survivor sharing her story to another counselor during a youth camp.
“I watched her put her mask back on and go back into the world like she was all alone and I couldn’t even bring myself to whisper…me too,” Burke recalled.
Even today, it has legs beyond smartphones and laptops.
What has the #MeToo movement achieved?
The movement shook up not just Hollywood, but many industries and countries. From Uber to Amazon to USA Gymnastics, powerful men were being ousted from positions of power for committing or harboring misconduct. In addition to celebrities and CEOs, allegations keep mounting against restaurateurs, fashion photographers, journalists, politicians and more.
Some tangible changes occur over the years:
🎬 Sets get intimacy coordinators in the US and abroad, too.
🤝 Inclusion riders—a clause an actor can insert in their contract that requires cast and crew on a film to meet a certain level of diversity—become part of the conversation
📜 Morality clauses demand appropriate behavior within and beyond the workplace
✍️ Detailed nudity riders start being written into contracts
🙅♀️ 22 states and the District of Columbia pass more than 70 workplace anti-harassment bills, as per National Women’s Law Center
🗣️ Silicon Valley behemoths like Google, Facebook, Airbnb, and eBay end forced arbitration in sexual harassment claims that kept complains private
✊ Congress passes an overhaul of how it handles sexual harassment claims
But there are still cracks in the system, small and big. For instance, Coachella launched a program called Every One to curb sexual harassment and assault at the music festival, but the campaign did not reach most women. Uber has been quietly lobbying against the Speak Out Act, which aims to rein in the widespread use of nondisclosure agreements that can amount to “gag orders.”
What’s next for MeToo
Burke took the me too movement from its hashtag form and helped shape it into an organization to support survivors of gender-based violence. To mark the five-year anniversary, me too. International is launching a “#BeyondtheHashtag” campaign to invigorate on-the-ground advocacy efforts.
“Our Beyond the Hashtag theme speaks to why relying on the viral moment, or the two words ‘me too,’ to tell a whole story is dangerously short-sighted. Unraveling the global prevalence of rape culture is a fight having been fought for decades—a fight that is happening right now, and will be fought for decades to come,” Dani Ayers, CEO of me too. International, told Quartz, adding: “Through the campaign, we aim to motivate the global community to challenge systems that allow harm to stay hidden and seek the support and services we need to prevent sexual violence, finding a way for all to heal and thrive.”
From October 2022 through October 2023, the organization, in partnership local initiatives, will:
👥 Conduct more in-person community gatherings in multiple cities
🎙️ Release a limited series podcast featuring influential voices in the movement
📖 Conduct an impact study answering the question, “What has ‘me too.’ made possible?”
🏃 Equip survivors with direct actions
“Moving forward, it is important for us as a global community to examine this movement not as an individualized problem, but instead as a systemic issue that is enabled by a culture steeped in misogyny, racism, capitalism, and an imbalance of power dynamics that will require an investment in scalable community-led solutions, cultural interventions, and narrative shifts to create a world free from sexual violence.” —Tarana Burke, me too. International Founder and Chief Vision Officer
🇨🇳 China tried to crush #MeToo, but it’s making a comeback
🔁 From apologies to denials, a guide to the complex world of post-Me Too comebacks
💪 One year after #MeToo, has anything actually changed at work?