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When the #MeToo hashtag originally appeared on social media in October 2017 with a tweet from actress Alyssa Milano, it instantly became a global sensation. People around the world used the hashtag to show their solidarity with women who had been the victims of sexual harassment or sexual violence, and it quickly became a rallying cry for equality and justice for women. And, most importantly, it instantly changed the power dynamics within society – with a single tweet, it suddenly became possible for a woman to take down a powerful man or force changes within an entire industry such as Hollywood.
Democrats and Brett Kavanaugh
Two years later, though, it is clear that the #MeToo hashtag has been weaponized and the original goals of the #MeToo movement subverted. The goal now is no longer to bring down long-time sexual predators like Harvey Weinstein, but rather, to bring down political enemies. With a single tweet or social media post, it is now possible to accuse anyone of sexual misconduct, and to have a trial in the court of public opinion rather than in the court of law. And it doesn’t matter any more if the allegations or accusations are from years ago, or even from decades ago.
The most obvious example of this new dynamic at work is the case of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. A single accusation from Christine Blasey Ford became the basis for a national political drama, the likes of which we had never seen before. The Democrats lined up behind Ms. Ford, demanding that her voice be heard, and her allegations explored. Even if there was not a single corroborating witness, and even if Ms. Ford had never shared details of this decades-old allegation with anyone else other than her therapist, it didn’t matter. The end result was a brilliant (but morally repugnant) strategy by the Democrats – exploit the #MeToo movement to take down a potential Supreme Court justice.
Republicans and Joe Biden
The reason why this example is even more relevant today is because we are now witnessing nearly the same thing happening with Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. This time, though, the shoe is on the other foot. It’s the Republicans, now, who are using the allegations of Tara Reade to take down Joe Biden. They are demanding that the voice of this woman be heard, and that we accept her accusations as being true.
All of a sudden, the Democrats are on the defensive – they are placed into the uncomfortable position of having their own weapon used against them. They are using the standard defense used in the pre-#MeToo era – refusing to discuss the matter publicly, denying all allegations, challenging the reputation of the woman making the claims, and vigorously supporting the moral virtue of the man being attacked.
Politics and the social media battlefield
Whether the #MeToo hashtag continues to be weaponized in the political arena will largely depend on whether it forces Joe Biden to exit the presidential race. You can’t weaponize #MeToo against someone like President Trump – someone linked to porn stars, marital infidelity and sexual escapades – but you can weaponize it against someone like Biden, who is holding himself up as the moral, upstanding candidate who has already pledged to take on a woman as a VP running mate.
No matter how it plays out, one thing is certain – social media is emerging as an important battlefield in any political war. With a single powerful message and an army of followers, you can change the narrative on any topic or force people to re-think the way they view a particular candidate. Why create costly “attack ads” for network TV, when you can create equally devastating “attack hashtags” for social media at a fraction of the price?