A Look at the Influence and Limits of “Hashtag Activism” to Effectuate Legal Change

#MeToo was a hashtag posted on social media by men and women to share that they have been victims of sexual assault or harassment. The “Me Too” movement was started by Tarana Burke long before the hashtag was created, and #MeToo is just one example of the use of the hashtag, a social media tool, to launch a topic into the center-stage of media attention. Sexual harassment and assault are illegal under federal and state laws. Federal law and state law, however, are not always the same and each state may have laws that differs from other states. The “Me Too” movement seeks to accomplish changes in such laws, and the hashtag has been instrumental in that process. This Note discusses the history and rise of the hashtag, as well as its usefulness and limitations as a tool to propel and help create legal change through the lens of the #MeToo movement. This Note focuses on federal, California, and Mississippi laws as examples of the changes, or lack thereof, to sexual harassment laws because of the #MeToo movement, and advocates for changes to sexual harassment and assault laws in ways that focus on empowering victims and that align with the goals of the “Me Too” movement. This includes, but is not limited to, encouraging advocates to focus on state-level political and legal changes, and advocating for standardized definitions of terms regarding sexual assault and harassment. Finally, this Note recognizes that while hashtags may not be sufficient on their own, they are an important tool and can be utilized in many ways to bring about desired social and legal change.

The full text of this Note is available to download as a PDF.