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#MeToo – How social media gives women a voice (+ video: Time’s Person of Year)

Susan Fowler had tried going to human resources. She had tried going to her managers. She had tried transferring departments. But nothing changed. The sexual and sexist comments she received as an engineer at Uber kept coming.

So she went online and wrote a 3,000-word blog post exposing the behavior.

A year later, a raft of executives, including Travis Kalanick, Uber’s co-founder and chief executive, are gone. Fowler, meanwhile, has a new job, a book contract and a movie deal. [She also was Time’s Person of the Year.]

This has been a period when the whisper network moved online and became a shout. Suddenly, in a way they never had before, women have a voice, people are listening, and men are paying consequences.

It’s happening now for a lot of reasons, but one of them is that social media has given victims a platform, a network of allies and a public presence that can’t as easily be silenced. Social media, for all its flaws, has served as a democratizing force.

On Twitter, people in Hollywood described abuse. In Silicon Valley, a venture capitalist was fired after an accusatory Facebook post. With the #MeToo hashtag, a chorus of voices shared experiences of harassment and assault by famous men and, in much larger numbers, men who are not.

“Social media changed it dramatically,” Tarana Burke said, talking about the #MeToo movement, which she started in 2006 and which went viral last year. “The internet is a great equalizer. The hashtag created a global community of support. That was a beautiful thing to watch.”

The balance of power had long been tilted in the direction of men. They were the ones with the status and money to harass and abuse women, and then threaten, bribe or fire them if they complained. Only about a quarter of women who have suffered harassment report it, and the main reasons that more don’t are that they (rightly) fear retaliation, don’t think anyone will do anything about it and don’t want to face those consequences alone.

Social media changed much of that. It’s harder to retaliate or ignore reports when the public is watching, or dismiss women’s accusations when they are immediately bolstered by the stories of many more women.

Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox anchor who helped start the national reckoning, said in a recent interview at TEDWomen, “Social media has really helped us in this whole effort because it’s given women the power to know they’re not alone.”

The medium can also be abused, spreading false allegations just as quickly. But if anything, that can be seen as a testament to the power women now hold.

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