Young Workers in the Era of Social Media and #MeToo
In 2006, Tarana Burke conceived the phrase “Me Too” to help survivors of sexual violence (Garcia). Burke’s “Me Too”, however, did not evolve into the revelatory #MeToo movement until 2017. This is because #MeToo’s success depended fundamentally on the rise of social media platforms like Twitter, which grew from 6 million users in 2006 to 328 million users in 2017 (Wolfe). Now, because of the pervasiveness of social media, we all live in the era of #MeToo, and young people coming of age in this era are no exception. Indeed, these young people may epitomize the lessons of this movement when entering the workforce, resulting in a positive effect overall on workplace interactions.
First, the #MeToo movement on social media has encouraged young people to be less tolerant of workplace sexual misconduct. Behaviors that may have traditionally been excused, like making non-explicit but sexually suggestive comments, for example, are now recognized as instances of sexual harassment and worthy of reporting. In fact, harassment complaints made to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rose by 12 percent in the year after #MeToo’s popularization on social media (Chiwaya). Likewise, social media has exposed young people to the reality that anybody regardless of gender, sexuality, or age can be a victim of sexual harassment or assault. Terry Crews, for example, famously used #MeToo to tell his story about being groped by a Hollywood executive (Bradley). This augmented understanding of victimhood may embolden young workers, men and women alike, to more frequently report unwanted sexual advances made towards themselves or coworkers.
Young people may additionally be less likely to negatively stigmatize coworkers who admit to being sexually harassed or assaulted. This is because social media has made discussions of workplace sexual misconduct less taboo through desensitization. According to the Pew Research Center, 65 percent of U.S. adult social media users say at least some of the content they see on social media discuss sexual harassment or assault (Anderson et al.). Many young people may have also experienced their acquaintances, friends, and even family members come forward with stories of sexual misconduct using #MeToo. This increases the likelihood of supportive, sympathetic, and understanding responses towards coworkers who have been similarly mistreated.
Finally, young people may be less likely to commit acts of workplace sexual misconduct themselves. On one hand, #MeToo’s popularity on social media has made young workers more educated as to what actions are implicitly or explicitly inappropriate in the workplace. Young workers may subsequently make vigorous efforts to avoid these actions when interacting with coworkers. On the other hand, because of social media, young people are intimately aware of the repercussions that befall those who are publicly accused of sexual assault or harassment. These repercussions can include immediate professional, financial, and social consequences. The immediacy of these consequences is also one of the common criticisms of social media and #MeToo (Smith). Regardless, these potential repercussions offer further incentive for young workers to avoid inappropriate behaviors in the workplace.
In conclusion, #MeToo has had an undeniable effect on workplace etiquette, and this effect may be particularly pronounced in young workers. Young people coming of age in the #MeToo era may be less likely to tolerate sexual misconduct when it happens to themselves or coworkers. They may also be less likely to stigmatize others when they admit to being sexually mistreated or targeted and similarly less likely to personally commit acts of sexual misconduct. Ultimately, social media platforms have given rise to a watershed movement that has great potential to make workplaces safer, healthier, and more positive for all.