- Waves of social activism and callout culture have defined quarantine, starting with the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, followed by viral workplace inequality stories, and now hundreds of new sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations being disseminated online.
- The surge of allegations echoes the 2017 “Me Too” movement, inspired by the Harvey Weinstein accusations, which included widespread use of the “#MeToo” hashtag.
- This time, viral allegations of sexual misconduct against comedian Chris D’Elia seemed to spark a new wave of accusations against A-list teen celebrities, video game streamers and developers, wrestling professionals, and internet personalities.
- While some allegations have been substantiated, and some have had consequences for the accused, the outpouring of allegations on social media has largely just been subjected to the court of online opinion — which has so far shifted back and forth rapidly, leading to the rise of an unsubstantiated belief that accusers may be making false accusations as part of a trend or for “clout.”
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Multiple industries and internet-adjacent communities appear to be in the middle of a massive “Me Too” moment, as hundreds of sexual assault allegations have been amplified across social media platforms over the past week.
In the gaming industry alone, The New York Times reports that more than 70 individuals, most of them women, have come forward with allegations that include gender-based discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual assault.
Online celebrities like Twitter personality Jovan Hill and TikTokers Ondreaz Lopez and Cody Orlove have all responded to accusations of sexual assault and abuse, apologizing to the accusers but denying the extent of their claims.
Additionally, huge stars in the professional wrestling community have been accused of varying degrees of sexual assault, with the majority of the accusations emerging on social media using the hashtag “#SpeakingOut,” Deadspin reported. Some of the accused faced immediate consequences including firings, as dozens of women in the wrestling community came forward in a matter of days.
But while some communities appear to be taking the allegations seriously — particularly in the streaming and wrestling industries, where there are hierarchies of authority figures that can vet claims and hold individuals accountable — many of the allegations are being brought forward by either anonymous figures that can’t be vetted, or are being vetted in a social media ecosystem dominated by teenagers and young adults, where the quickly shifting tide of public opinion is the only landscape being affected by the claims.
Thus, since many of the accusations against internet celebrities, musicians, actors, and other public figures are being met with denials, a suspicion that there’s a “false accusation trend” going on has gained traction.
But apart from a handful of claims that appear to be blatantly fictitious, it’s hard to judge whether the denials are honest — and the notion that predominantly young women are making up allegations for “clout” is rooted in a largely unfounded stigma against accusers that has trickled down through generations reaching today’s Gen Z posters.
So far, it appears that many of the recent allegations against famous and internet-famous figures have fit a pattern: allegations are posted online, they gain traction and are widely accepted as truthful, the accused posts their denial, and the tide quickly flips on the accuser. Without an objective vetting process of each accusation — which hasn’t happened yet, given of the speed of this cycle — posters seem to waver from their desire to “believe women,” brought on by the 2017 Me Too movement, and their desire to believe the accused, who are so far mostly well-liked online figures.
Social media has been a defining factor in the new Me Too wave, starting with a viral thread about comedian Chris D’Elia.
While the 2017 Me Too movement was largely sparked by The New York Times and New Yorker‘s reports on Harvey Weinstein, which carried over into physical activism like protests, the current resurgence has so far only occurred in online spaces. If it continues to pick up steam — and if the accusations against famous figures like Elgort and Bieber are either supplemented by reporting or elevated to legal action — it seems likely that the recent burst of accusations could be amplified into something more akin to the global 2017 movement. Right now, the most serious claims and consequences have been insulated in their respective communities: gaming and wrestling.
The surge in accusations can seemingly be attributed to the rise in social justice activism that’s taken place following the killing of George Floyd, which inspired a burst of public protests across the world. As more people turned to the internet during COVID-19 quarantine, anger over police brutality festered and eventually exploded into action. After Minneapolis burned and protesters were beaten across the US, some police departments and cities have started to change their policies.
Recently, internet-driven activism has sprung up elsewhere as people channel their collective outrage toward change. Pay disparities along racial lines and a lack of BIPOC representation in workplaces has become a trending issue in multiple industries, including media and makeup. In line with the anti-racism movement, cancel culture and viral callouts have both thrived, from capturing “Karens” on-camera to “performative activism” backlash.
The first sexual misconduct allegations to seemingly break the proverbial floodgates over the past week were against comedian Chris D’Elia. One of his first accusers gained notoriety by comparing him to his character in the Netflix series “You” who is a fictional comedian that grooms and rapes women. She alleged that D’Elia preyed on her when she was 16 and he was 24, The Washington Post reported.
—SheRatesDogs (@SheRatesDogs) June 17, 2020
Her thread was amplified by the popular Twitter account “@SheRatesDogs,” which created a thread with nearly two dozen accounts of women alleging that D’Elia had harassed them as teenagers and young adult women, soliciting both nude photos and physical intimacy during encounters. In a statement to TMZ, D’Elia apologized for some of his past behavior, but denied knowingly pursuing “any underage women at any point.”
For the gaming industry and streaming community, the wave of allegations appears to have begun on June 19, when five woman accused Twitch streamer SayNoToRage of sexual harassment. SayNoToRage, who goes by the moniker Lono, has since apologized for his action — but his admission of guilt is the exception, not the norm, in responses to the current Me Too wave. While many of the allegations against famous men like Elgort and Bieber have gone viral, most of the accused who have acknowledged the allegations, including those two A-listers, have denied them.
So far, most of the allegations have been met with denials, and without any objective vetting of the claims, the idea that there is a “false accusations trend” has emerged.
Without an admission of guilt, the denials have been met largely with acceptance — although a few counter-arguments have been posed, like in Bieber’s case. Two women have most recently made accusations about Bieber, MTV reports, including one woman, Kadi, whose claims Bieber has not responded to, and an anonymous Twitter account created the day the accusations were posted under the name Danielle.
—Pop Crave (@PopCrave) June 21, 2020
Both accounts have been subjected to investigations by random Twitter users, and the sentiment that Bieber was guilty — perpetuated, in part, by “antis,” or people who dislike Bieber for fan-related purposes — until Bieber posted his counter-claims, which seemed to largely sway opinion in the other direction. That being said, there are still viral tweets and large discussions over whether Bieber and his team are lying, including in the replies to his own tweets.
Bieber issued 15 tweets countering the viral allegations against him, including articles, screenshots of purported emails about his Airbnb reservation, and a photo of a purported receipt for a hotel reservation. The thread of his own evidence, along with his statement that the allegations against him “were factually impossible” and that he will “be working with twitter and authorities to take legal action” seemed to convince many of the social media users who were interested.
—Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) June 22, 2020
Most of the allegations and the denials have occurred so quickly that there hasn’t been very much reporting, and little to no legal action, to vet the claims. Rather, the court of online public opinion has been the ecosystem where the current Me Too wave is occurring. And because the personalities being accused have huge platforms and swaths of fans, there’s an impetus to believe them over the accusers, many of whom are anonymous and have claims that would require more thorough vetting to stand up in court or in an article.
Given the anonymous nature of many of the allegations, a narrative seems to be developing online that there is a “trend” of false accusations against celebrities, even though some of the accusers — like Lopez’s — have doubled down to say they aren’t lying, and the accused is.
—James Charles (@jamescharles) June 22, 2020
There’s an established danger in immediately believing anonymous and unsubstantiated claims.
As Sprouse and Lili Reinhart said in response to claims about various “Riverdale” cast members that trended on Twitter, several of the allegations against various “Riverdale” stars were shown to seemingly have originated from the same IP address, suggesting that one person was making multiple anonymous, unsubstantiated claims against multiple teen celebrities. That same Twitter user implied in a later tweet that they made false accusations to prove that a social media mob will believe anything and that Sprouse was innocent.
—Pop Crave (@PopCrave) June 22, 2020
But there’s also a danger in assuming that because a handful of accusations aren’t true, the rest aren’t — an assumption that has silenced or delegitimized accusers throughout history.
The idea that allegations are made to gain online fame is an especially dangerous mentality, because it contributes to a stigma that dissuades victims to come forward. The idea that accusers become famous themselves for making false accusations against famous figures ignored the backlash and hate from the accused person’s fans and from online communities dedicated to attacking women, such as those that organized campaigns during Gamergate.
Official figures suggest that the number of rapes and sexual assaults that are never reported or prosecuted far outweigh the number of men who are wrongfully charged for sex crimes they didn’t commit, and while fake rape accusations get a lot of attention, studies suggest that between only 2% and 10% of accusations are actually unfounded. But most of these statistics are based on accusations submitted to law enforcement, not social media, so the landscape may be skewed differently online. Without more research into the online environment many accusers have turned to in 2020 to disseminate allegations, it’s unclear how likely social media allegations are to be false.
While social media offers a place where accusers, who are predominantly women, can quickly disseminate claims to a wide audience, it also serves as an oftentimes toxic environment where people can side with one party only to quickly change their mind. Until more claims are vetted by reporters, investigators, law enforcement, and other neutral parties, it’s unclear how far the Me Too resurgence will go.
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