Panelists discuss social-media ‘hash-tavism’

Tarana Burke, the social activist who created the hashtag #MeToo in 2006, has been approached by people repeatedly as the campaign against sexual assault and harassment took off in October.

“[They] have said to me a hundred times, ‘We’re starting a movement!’ ” Burke told a Princeton audience Dec. 11. “I say, you are not: You are joining a movement.” The effort to end sexual violence in the United States is decades old, she said, and the #MeToo campaign is one small part of that.

Burke was part of a panel titled “Hash-tavism” — the use of hashtags on social media to express and promote a political or social position. It was sponsored by The Stripes, a student publication focused on issues of race, culture, and minority identity.

Chelsea Fuller, senior communications manager at Blackbird, said the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida served as a “catalyst for online storytelling,” and social media provided a means to give a voice to marginalized groups and people.

CNN reporter Tanzina Vega, who is teaching a Princeton journalism course on reporting on race in America, said Black Twitter — a virtual community within Twitter — operates to deconstruct the hierarchical structure of newsrooms, as well as the stories that journalists cover.

Asked about the future of #MeToo and similar campaigns, Burke said there is a need to “think more expansively.”

“For me, this moment is a victory,” she said. “In movements there are victories, there are triumphs, there are challenges. Because of the nature of pop culture and hashtags, people are just now paying attention.”

“I fully expect MeToo to die down,” Burke said. “But in terms of what happens next on the ground, there’s tons of work left to do. My hope is that we keep at least 1 percent of these folks [who have participated] and they join the fight.”