Discourse

How social media became the new judge and jury—the downside of #MeToo

MeToo has changed the landscape of what it means to stand accused in the public eye—and no record label, network or close associate wants to be in—or anywhere near—the firing line.
Fiona Dodwell
Fiona Dodwell The Post Millennial

Marilyn Manson made international headlines last week as the latest subject of a carefully orchestrated #MeToo campaign. The fallout has been catastrophic to Manson's career, having already been dropped by his record label, a major network television show and his long-term manager in a matter of days.

Manson may be no stranger to controversy, but this time it's different and everybody knows why. #MeToo has changed the landscape of what it means to stand accused in the public eye—and no record label, network or close associate wants to be in—or anywhere near—the firing line.

Two main schools of thought seem to have prevailed as the grisly details of Manson's alleged misdeeds were made public last week, one being "well, duh, of course he's guilty!"—the other pointing out the ills and flaws of trial by media, with some seemingly tiring of #MeToo's propensity for causing moral panic before waiting for the full truth to be uncovered.

Of course, if Manson is guilty, we will celebrate the taking away of his status. He should have to face the full and fierce repercussions of his behaviour, this is without doubt. But what if he isn't guilty? As of yet, the truth is, we do not know.

#MeToo has long attracted criticism from its detractors for its moral absolutism, but seldom is the issue of fairness and due diligence addressed. We are routinely told that false allegations of sexual assault are so rare as to be considered negligible and not worthy of our time. The rights of the falsely accused are largely seen as inconsequential, so dwarfed in numbers as they are by the shockingly high amount of women routinely targeted by abusers each year. But however rare it may be, is it fair to view the falsely accused as merely collateral damage?

Champions of the #MeToo movement will argue that evidence of false allegations fail to support public anxiety that untrue reporting is common. Various studies have been carried out on the subject from different bodies, with the general consensus indicating that cases of sexual violence proven to be false are as low as 2 percent to 6 percent. But just as sex crimes are notoriously hard to prove, the same also works inversely; they are just as hard to disprove. The truth is, it is impossible to ever truly know how commonplace false allegations of abuse are, as false accusers will rarely admit to having made it all up.

The #BelieveAllVictims hashtag which was popularized at the height of #MeToo's impact seemed well intentioned at the time but in hindsight, was dangerously open to abuse. The onus on believing accusers at all costs seems to be the primary focus of the #MeToo movement. Whilst nobody can deny that accusers should be listened to and treated as if what they have to say is going to be taken very seriously, surely it is paramount to the pursuit of the truth that we refrain from using words like "victim" until it is proven that a crime has in fact occurred?

The use of the word "victim" to describe the accuser implies that the accused has committed a crime before receiving the basic human right to a fair trial. The fundamental bedrock on which the justice system is built is that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Society needs to ask itself if we're really comfortable with a hugely influential social media movement undermining this centuries-old principle en masse? Aren't we setting a dangerous precedent if we pretend that problematic accusers with questionable stories lacking credibility don't exist at all?

#MeToo sympathizers will no doubt argue—and rightly so—that the justice system is inherently flawed. Courts continue to fail countless victims of sexual abuse every year. In 2020, it was reported that rape convictions in the UK had fallen to a record low, whilst the number of rapes reported had risen. This is a worrying state of affairs. The National Police Chief's Council said in a statement that "it is becoming harder to achieve the standard of evidence required to charge a suspect and get a case into court."

Campaigners for women's rights argue that rape is effectively being decriminalized. Sarah Green, the director of End Violence Against Women (EVAM) coalition echoed these exact sentiments, arguing "What else would you call a 1 in 70 chance of prosecution?"

Clearly, there is no easy solution to this very highly-charged issue, but #MeToo's approach of throwing out the baby with the bathwater will not serve victims any better than our failing courts. If #MeToo is trying to send a message to everyday victims afraid of coming forward with their ordeal, what exactly is it they are trying to say? Having a support network on social media is all well and good, but how does that translate into the real world? How does building an army of online mobs calling for a person's "cancellation" lead us to true, effective justice?

Do we really wish to teach future generations that Twitter is the appropriate channel to report allegations of misconduct? Anonymous claimants abound, with celebrities often targeted by virtual strangers. Just last year, Justin Bieber was accused of rape by an anonymous woman on Twitter and within minutes, two further allegations went viral—again, from anonymous claimants offering no proof that they had even met the singer. Bieber's team combated the allegations with receipts proving that the star wasn't staying at the hotel on the date the accuser alleged the incident took place.

Highly publicized, frivolous accusations like the ones levelled against Bieber only serve to damage real victims—if and when they finally get their day in court. Credibility is everything and every provably false claim made by a faceless social media user undermines the people who really do have a story to tell in the real world. We want – we need – true justice. Justice for every victim who deserves the peace of seeing their abuser behind bars. We cannot afford to let their voices get drowned out in the masses and hashtags.

Perhaps it's time #MeToo looked beyond the impact its movement has on Hollywood and considers the wider, more far reaching implications it has on ordinary young women. It may have been a positive thing to ignite the conversation in the public arena and to shine a light on the magnitude of the problem of sexual assault, but it is fast leaving a dubious legacy in its wake.

No matter where you stand on this issue, surely we must all agree that every accused person should get an opportunity to stand trial, before being fully judged and sentenced by the social media mob. For nobody should be treated as "collateral damage." Things do not—should not—have to be this way.

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