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Our phones are never far from our hands; whether we’re riding the bus to school, sitting in a busy lecture hall, or even exercising, chances are we’re staying connected to friends and family with our phones. Social media, in particular, consumes hours of each day as we scroll through pictures to see popular hashtags and recent trending news. Social media movements have gained traction in our phone-centric world, but one cannot help question whether people understand the extent of the movement, or if they are simply posting pictures with a popular hashtag to be a part of the latest trend. Nearly everything from neurological diseases to sexual harassment and assault has a following on social media, yet have you ever stopped to go beyond the hashtag and explore the heart of the issue?

The summer of 2014 saw the popular #icebucketchallenge take social media by storm to become an exceptionally prominent movement. The premise was simple: dump a bucket of ice water on yourself and post the video online or donate money to raise awareness and generate more funding for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) research. The challenge ultimately involved over 17 million people posting videos on Facebook, and these videos were viewed 10 billion times. Chances are, either you or someone you know happily dumped a bucket of freezing cold water on yourself while a friend recorded the video, but did you take a moment to research ALS? The neurological disorder involves degeneration of the neurons connecting the brain to muscles of the body, resulting in paralysis, inability to move, breathe, and swallow, and eventually death. The upshot of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was over $115 million dollars raised and the discovery of a new gene related to the disease. Although undeniably positive, the attention the ALS Association received was largely uneducated, and for people living with the disease, life continues even though social media has turned its attention to the next popular hashtag.


Source: Kim and Anthony Quintano, photo enlarged from original


October 15, 2018 will mark one year since the #metoo hashtag swept across social media like wildfire. However, what many people don’t know is that the phrase originated over a decade ago in 2006. It was not until Alyssa Milano’s viral #metoo tweet that the movement truly took hold. Today, allegations of sexual harassment, assault, and misconduct are increasingly common; Bill Cosby, Matt Lauer, Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes,  and Les Moonves have all seen their highly successful careers crumble in recent years amidst allegations of sexual assault or harassment. An estimated 43% of men and 81% of women have been sexually harassed. One of the exceptionally under-acknowledged and under-appreciated pioneers against sexual harassment is law professor Anita Hill, who in 1991 levied allegations of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas during his nomination to the United States Supreme Court. Hill endured nationally televised scrutiny when she was harshly questioned by an all-male Senate as she recounted “embarrassing, shameful, and personal” instances of workplace sexual harassment by Thomas. Following the allegations, Thomas became a Justice of the Supreme Court while Hill endured a brutal backlash; one senator labelled her as a “woman scorned” with a “martyr complex.” Now an attorney, Hill says “The reluctance of someone to come forward demonstrates that even in the #MeToo era, it remains incredibly difficult to report harassment, abuse or assault by people in power.” The simple #metoo hashtag has become a global movement, and with each new post comes more awareness. However, awareness alone is not sufficiently powerful to make necessary changes. The #metoo movement will only be effective if communities fully recognize the past and current magnitude of the issue of sexual harassment and assault.

In a society where many millennials may know more about avocado toast and flattering selfie angles than current world events, apathy and lack of awareness are serious problems. With our phones in hand, it is as simple to read up on world events as it is to check social media, but most people, especially millennials, are more interested in a friend’s social life than in current events. Hashtags are as plentiful as the pictures they are attached to, and many activists harness the tremendous power of social media to gain traction and rapidly spread information across the globe. Social media can be positive, but we owe it to ourselves at this critical juncture of life where we are choosing to be educated at university to ensure that the springboards that will propel us forward are firmly cemented in sound knowledge and a deeper understanding of the issues. Our lives are more than just hashtags. 


1. https://www.history.com/news/anita-hill-clarence-thomas-sexual-harassment-confirmation-hearings 

2. http://www.alsa.org/about-us/ice-bucket-challenge-faq.html 

3. http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/ct-me-too-timeline-20171208-htmlstory.html

4. https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/02/21/587671849/a-new-survey-finds-eighty-percent-of-women-have-experienced-sexual-harassment

5. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2017/11/24/rewatching-joe-bidens-disastrous-anita-hill-hearing-a-sexual-harassment-inquistion/

6. https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/anita-hill-brett-kavanaugh-supreme-court_us_5b9c2ab2e4b04d32ebf87f2b




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