The limits of social media movements

Closing in on eight months since the #MeToo campaign unleashed a torrent of emotion, especially on social media, that gave women the permission to disclose current and past experiences of sexual harassment and assault, we question whether gender dynamics have really changed, both locally and in most Western countries.

The #MeToo campaign has undoubtedly empowered many survivors of sexual abuse to talk about their own experiences, and bring many of the long accused culprits to deal with the fallout, an example of this is the recent conviction of Bill Cosby after dozens of women accused him of sexual assault.

A win for the #MeToo movement, and his victims, after an earlier mistrial.

It’s hard to imagine that the actions of Hollywood celebrities inadvertently brought to prominence a social media movement, and sparked a discussion on the presumed “equality” gains of women on the global stage. 

Though social media has facilitated the spread of this awareness campaign, certain places do not have the same privilege of access.

The #MeToo campaign has spread somewhat to the developing world, but there remains a disparity in voices heard due to lack of access to internet facilities or essential health services, this in turn means the social media movement has benefitted the privileged few. 

In Rwanda’s context the discussion around the #MeToo movement started a discussion around rape culture and victim blaming, but as most social media discussions go, it was derailed by a back and forth on the veracity of some accusations.

For Rwanda, many of the women compromised on having their stories told. In light of this, seeing people align with social media movements makes me somewhat cynical due to its limits. Clicking the “like” or “favorite” button on social media can signal more narcissistic impulses than real engagement or profound change.  

Twitter and Facebook are valuable tools for building community and getting the message out on different issues, but social media movements need to create other platforms that they control, with follow through, effectively creating change online and offline.

Social media movements can help citizens who feel a sense of injustice to realize, perhaps for the first time, that they are not alone, but tangible actions need work on the ground. The actors behind these movements also need self-awareness to involve the less privileges such as women in rural areas, domestic workers among others.

If there is anything to learn from social media movements such as the #MeToo campaign, is that there is tremendous work still to be done. If the campaign truly has the financial backing of some of the most powerful public figures in the world, surely they can advocate for more support and research on sexual abuse in impoverished countries and countries in conflict, where rape is commonly used as a weapon of war.

As social justice warriors we define the purpose behind global movements, and add ways to stand with people marginalised on different fronts. 

For real change to take place, we need to make sacrifices beyond a flick of the mouse to register concern about the victims of sexual abuse. We reap what we sow, as such, if our engagement is limited to online interactions then change will be minimal.

Certainly some people are taking up the causes that come out of the social media movements, and they’ve started a fire we need to fuel for greater impact.


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