Social media and scandal

Authored by: Gina Masullo Chen

The routledge companion to media and scandal

Print publication date:  April  2019
Online publication date:  March  2019

Print ISBN: 9780815387596
eBook ISBN: 9781351173001
Adobe ISBN:


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In the autumn of 2017, American actor Alyssa Milano urged women to share their own experiences of sexual abuse by writing “MeToo” on social media to show the ubiquity of the problem after rampant allegations of sexual assault and harassment were made against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein (Codrea-Rado 2017). The idea of “me too” had started a decade earlier when Tarana Burke launched a non-profit and a movement to help victims of harassment (Garcia 2017). But it was with the potent power of social media that #MeToo – with the hashtag used to connect topics online – gained the kind of widespread traction the digital age provides. Women began sharing their stories. Men were shocked at how many of their friends had experienced abuse. The news media paid attention to abuse in a way it perhaps had never done before. The hashtag fomented online intimate publics (Berlant 2011), or virtual spaces of being political together, among women and male allies in one of the most cogent examples of hashtag activism, which is activism that grows out of online engagement (Chen, Pain and Zhang 2018; Williams 2015). The #MeToo movement also exemplified a fundamental shift in how the media and society more broadly understands and defines scandals that involve sexual misconduct. Social media blurred the lines between public and private so much that they created a public discourse where literally no private sphere exists (Juntunen and Valiverronen 2010; Mandell and Chen 2016a). As a result, the previously private missteps of politicians, celebrities and even the average person can become public at lightning speed, unknown in any prior age.

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