Reclaiming stigmatized narratives: the networked disclosure landscape of #MeToo

Ryan Gallagher, Elizabeth Stowell, Andrea G. Parker, Brooke Foucault Welles
SOC arXiv
August 14, 2019

Abstract

The social stigma looming over disclosures of sexual violence discourages many women from publicly sharing their stories, limiting their ability to seek support and obscuring the epidemic of sexual violence against women. By inviting women to share their ordinarily silenced stories, the hashtag #MeToo surfaced a network of survivors to confront this stigma. Through a mixed-methods analysis of over 1.5 million tweets posted during the first two weeks after #MeToo gained widespread popularity in 2017, we map the landscape of disclosures that emerged and disentangle the effects of network-level reciprocal disclosures, or disclosures made in reaction to seeing others disclose. We detail how survivors disclosed a diversity of sexual violence experiences in solidarity with others, composing nearly half of all authored tweets and comprising a disproportionate number of interactions within the #MeToo network. Further, we show that the more disclosures an individual potentially saw prior to disclosing, the more likely they were to share details with their disclosure. We argue that such network-level reciprocal disclosures may have reduced stigma, creating a counterpublic space safe for disclosure which, subsequently, generated more disclosures. Our work illustrates how feminist hashtag activism, like #MeToo, can unify individual and collective narratives to dismantle the stigma surrounding disclosures of sexual violence. Content warning: This article heavily discusses issues of sexual violence against women.

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