Time Magazine just named a hashtag as the Person of the Year (sort of)

Time Magazine just essentially named millions of people — and a hashtag — as its Person of the Year. On Dec. 6, the publication gave the annual title to “The Silence Breakers,” the women (and men) standing up to sexual harassment by speaking up, creating a worldwide movement across industries from Hollywood to Washington. Time says that the movement doesn’t have a single, unifying leader, yet has sparked a worldwide revolution giving victims of sexual harassment the courage to speak up.

What’s interesting is that Time also put the spotlight on the #MeToo hashtag that trended on Twitter and other social media. The movement gained significant traction after actress Alyssa Milano invited Twitter users to post with #MeToo. The actress created the Tweet after a New York Times article exposed multiple allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein for sexual harassment. Overnight, the tweet saw over 30,000 replies with the hashtag, while in two weeks the phrase saw 1.7 million Tweets in over 85 countries and spread to multiple social media platforms.

“These silence breakers have started a revolution of refusal, gathering strength by the day, and in the past two months alone, their collective anger has spurred immediate and shocking results: nearly every day, CEOs have been fired, moguls toppled, icons disgraced. In some cases, criminal charges have been brought,” Stephanie Zacharek, Eliana Dockterman, and Haley Sweetland Edwards wrote for Time.

While Time says the movement doesn’t have a single leader, the publication has named several women across multiple industries that helped spur the movement, including Milano, actresses Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd; Senator Sara Gelser of Oregon; journalists Wendy Walsh, Megyn Kelly, and Sandra Muller; and former Uber engineer Susan Fowler. Singer and songwriter Taylor Swift is included in the list for countersuing a radio DJ for $1 just so she could speak out on the harassment.

The women in positions that make their names well known are also giving courage to other working women, including a group of hotel workers now pressing charges and women holding titles from dishwasher and strawberry picker. “When a movie star says #MeToo, it becomes easier to believe the cook who’s been quietly enduring for years,” the Times article reads.

The movement is being powered by the women finding the courage to speak up, but their voices have arguably been spread, at least in part, through social media. Time calls #MeToo both a hashtag and a rallying cry. The hashtag was even translated or adapted into different languages including #YoTambien and #BalanceTonPorc, a French phrase that would be the equivalent of #RatOutYourPig in English, while other tags also called out harassment, including #womenboycotttwitter. According to a survey conducted by Time,  82 percent thought women are more likely to speak out after the Weinstein harassment case that sparked #MeToo and 85 percent say they believe those women speaking out. While the phrase “me too” can be traced to activist Tarana Burke, when the phrase was first used more than ten years ago, MySpace was the most popular platform.

“We’re still at the bomb-throwing point of this revolution, a reactive stage at which nuance can go into hiding,” Zacharek, Dockterman and Sweetland Edwards concluded. “But while anger can start a revolution, in its most raw and feral form it can’t negotiate the more delicate dance steps needed for true social change. Private conversations, which can’t be legislated or enforced, are essential.”

The Silence Breakers isn’t the first time Time has named a group of people as the Person of the Year — other groups earning the title include The Whistleblowers in 2002 and American Women in 1975.


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