Boston University

How New Media Chooses What Stories Are Being Told: The #MeToo Example by Kate Jamison @ Boston University

By Kate Jamison | Boston University


In light of the recent #MeToo Campaign and all of the stories it has sparked, many are wondering: why now? What is it about our current political and social climate that is causing these women to come forward and recount some of the most traumatic stories, lately ones that were victims of public figures? Why are new allegations the headlines of every major publication? Historically, the political and news climate has been hugely caused by new emerging media. The press agenda sets what the public should be focusing on, but as new medias arise, the public has been able to control the strains of news they are receiving.


During the Civil Rights movement, black and white television was able to show Americans the horrendous acts occurring in the South. The classic videos of police turning hoses on protestors and the sit-ins at Woolworth’s are images that caught the attention and outrage of many across the country. Civil rights and racism became public concerns, and because of these concerns, the media turned their focus to the movement.


The same can be said for the Vietnam War. At this time color TV was appearing in homes across the country, and visceral, violent images of the war were brought into these homes. This was the first war the United States fought in that received such a loud public backlash. There were protests and the subsequent Free Love movement. This response was from the new media showing what a war actually looked like, and the American people were not pleased.


Nowadays, we are unfortunately accustomed to seeing images of violence consistently in our news. It is not a rarity to see the remnants of a war-stricken village, or injured soldiers and civilians. However, with new technology, specifically social media, we can hear the stories of those soldiers and civilians. People around the world can share their stories on social media, and we, sometimes halfway across the world, can hear them. This powerful new form of media puts the story-telling in the hands of the people. This is where the #MeToo Campaign and all of the new sexual assault allegations are coming from.


The #MeToo Campaign was started on Twitter, and moved to Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and multiple other social media sites. In light of a recent information unearthed about Harvey Weinstein by The New York Times & The New Yorker, this hashtag was started as a movement of solidarity for people who had also experienced sexual assault and/or harassment. It was used by women, men and nonbinary people alike, and it was overwhelmingly present online for days. Hundreds of thousands of people shared their stories either just among their private accounts or publically, and the world heard them.


Since Harvey Weinstein, multiple allegations of sexual assault have started to come out against men in Hollywood. An article was published by a former partner of the late Hugh Hefner, explaining how he abused the women in his mansion. Allegations have come out against Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., and George Takei. The latest are against Alabama Senate Candidate Roy Moore, and there have been multiple women that have come forward, now making members of Congress take a look at potential problems they may have with current members.

As devastating as the stories and numbers of people coming forward are, it is incredible that our political and social climate are so intent on making these voices heard. So many of these allegations are from years and decades ago, showing that the people hurt by these actions did not feel that their stories were worth telling, fearing retaliation from these powerful men or that no one would believe them. Social media has changed that climate. Survivors of sexual abuse were able to see all of the other people standing in solidarity with them through this interactive media, and it made them feel brave enough to tell their stories. The media followed in the public footsteps of making sure this issue is being covered, and that more abusers are being uncovered. This world is connected at high-speed levels, and the people get to tell the press what they are concerned about. On this one, the press seemed to be listening.

1 Comment

  1. Isabela Karibjanian

    December 5, 2017 at 4:31 am

    I think you make an important point about the power of media in shaping the prevailing political debate in the United States. Because of the freedom of the press is guaranteed and enforced, independent voices can shape the narratives and prevailing discourses in the US. The power of social media users to influence the news and political debate with #MeToo, shows the strength of the American democracy in this regard, demonstrating an innate capacity for institutional responsiveness to constituencies. However, I think it’s interesting to draw a distinction between the power of social media users and constituencies in the United States to influence the news cycle and the political conversation and the lack of power of independent voices elsewhere. This ability of the public to “control the strains of news they are receiving” is not present in many other so-called democracies. For example, in my research of Serbia, I found that the media coverage increasingly responds to government pressures, or is directly under state control. There is a much smaller space for dissent in the media, and for citizens to influence the news cycle. This is one of the reasons that I (and democracy evaluation institutions) have noted that Serbian democracy is in decline. This ability for the press to “listen,” as you put it, is critical in ensuring the strength of a democracy (or, at least the thicker definition of democracy as Dahl would put it). At a time when so many “free” presses face repression around the world (and when the President of the United States himself questions the accuracy of “mainstream media”), I think it’s a very good sign that the media (and lawmakers) in the US is so responsive to the voices criticizing power holders in American society.

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