Social media is the source of much controversy in today’s society. It can be a distraction from work, a place for narcissism or even an insidious method of bullying. But in overlooking social media’s potential for good, brands and society alike can miss out on today’s biggest catalyst for positive change.
Today, I’m focusing my attention on the benefits it can bring to the current re-awakening of mainstream feminism. In a world where social media commands daily (if not hourly) attention from us and our peers, could these networks be the most powerful tool in driving gender equality?
A recent example is the exponential shift in attitudes towards sexual harassment. What originated as the “Harvey Weinstein Scandal” has been turned on its head as feminist advocates have reclaimed their stories, under the existing #MeToo hashtag. This campaign allowed the victims’ voices to be championed above the noise of seedy gossip and the ever-burdensome “grey area”, where victim’s claims are second-guessed and challenged. This recent movement is fighting the narrative that too often becomes detached from genuine experiences of those it happened to. Time Magazine named these “silence breakers” their Person of the Year, in a move that sky-rocketed exposure of sexual harassment issues.
The power of the hashtag has similarly been seen for years in the #EveryDaySexism project, where women and men alike share sexist experiences and support other users in their time of need. The #WhyIStayed hashtag campaign empowered victims to share their stories of why they stayed in a relationship despite experiencing domestic abuse. Within twenty-four hours of this campaign being launched, thousands of people used the hashtag to share their side of the story.
Social media not only helps to reveal the significance of everyday sexist actions, but to shape awareness of global feminist issues. In Nigeria last year, young people began using Twitter as a medium to report FGM. The immediacy of social media’s reach is invaluable in preventing involuntary operations from happening, and can amplify a child’s voice to be heard across countries.
The recent milestone of women’s right to drive in Saudi Arabia was met with an overwhelming response online – showing that social media allows the feminist community to rejoice in successes across ethnicity, age and gender. In a more practical sense, previous boundaries of distance and time no longer limit feminists’ scope of activism. The 2017 Women’s Marches, held worldwide after the inauguration of President Donald Trump, originated from gender rights campaigner Teresa Shook in Hawaii, and quickly spread across the world. The peaceful protest was organised on social media, and took place in 82 countries.
Virtual communities provide a safe space that allow for more inclusive, transgressive forms of gender equality than ever before. #HeForShe, a solidarity movement initiated by UN Women, engaged men to advocate the message of gender equality across a range of issues, including violence, education, health and politics.
What can we take away from this in the communications sector? The growing integration of traditional and digital communications means that our online footprint matters more than ever. Social media has the power to change opinions, policy and even legislation: it is our role to use this power responsibly.