#MeToo: A Glimpse into the Digital Vault

It’s been a year since the hashtag #MeToo exploded on social media. Now the Schlesinger Library has committed to documenting the movement and its impact.
#MeToo
By Amanda Strauss, manager, special projects and digital services

Over the past year, the hashtag #MeToo, created in 2007 by the activist Tarana Burke, has been used on social media as a vehicle for telling intimate, personal stories of sexual assault, abuse, and harassment. This chorus of testimonials and accusations has spread across industries—from Hollywood to politics to academia—and public, intergenerational conversations and debates about consent and coercion have become commonplace. The digital footprint of #MeToo in the past year measures more than 19 million English-language Twitter posts and thousands of news articles and personal testimonials. 

Although #MeToo digital content has been multiplying at an exponential rate on a daily basis for more than a year, it is acutely vulnerable over the long term. Quantity is not a guarantee of permanence. The vast bulk of this content is being created on proprietary social media platforms, which offer no guarantee of preservation. It is entirely feasible that most of this content will disappear within the next decade, because the web and Internet-based companies thrive on change, not permanence. 

Permanence is the purview of archives and libraries. In order to ensure that #MeToo digital content will remain available for scholars ranging from historians to data scientists, the Schlesinger Library, with support from a generous S.T. Lee Innovation Grant from Harvard Library, has started a large-scale project to comprehensively document #MeToo. The Library is collecting social media, news articles, statements of denial and/or apology, web-forum conversations, websites, and related hashtags, along with more-traditional papers and records.

The Schlesinger has collected paper-based archival materials for the past 75 years, and this project is a continuation of those efforts in a primarily digital sphere. As we acquire this content, we will store it in a system that acts like an archival vault for digital material, and we are exploring a variety of methods for making it available to researchers. This project also marks the Library’s first foray into the complexities of collecting large-scale data and social media content. We will use it to build a tool kit for rapid-response collection of web content. When the next web-based social movement begins, we will be ready.

The project is being guided by a steering committee of renowned Harvard experts in the fields of history, law, business, and data science as well as librarians and archivists with expertise in digital preservation and data analysis. The digital collection will be open for research in late 2019.


Schlesinger Library
#MeToo Project 
Steering Committee

FACULTY MEMBERS

Francesca Dominici, Clarence James Gamble Professor of Biostatistics, Population, and Data Science, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and codirector, Harvard Data Science Initiative 

Jeannie Suk Gersen, John H. Watson Jr. Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

Jane Kamensky, Jonathan Trumbull Professor of American History, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation Director of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study

Gary King, Albert J. Weatherhead III University Professor, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and director, Harvard University Institute for Quantitative Social Science

Jill Lepore, David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History and Harvard College Professor, Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Kathleen L. McGinn, Cahners-Rabb Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School

Jonathan L. Zittrain, George Bemis Professor of International Law, Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School; vice dean for library and information resources, Harvard Law School Library; cofounder and faculty codirector, Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society; and professor of computer science, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

LIBRARIANS

Marilyn Dunn, executive director, Schlesinger Library 

Jane Kelly, web-archiving assistant, #MeToo digital collection, Schlesinger Library

Laura Linard, senior director, special collections, Baker Library, Harvard Business School

Pablo Morales Henry, senior developer and archivist for born-digital materials, Schlesinger Library

Michelle Pearse, senior research librarian,  Harvard Law School Library

Amanda Strauss, manager, special projects and digital services, Schlesinger Library

Hugh Truslow, head, social sciences and  visualization, Harvard Library

Jennifer Weintraub, librarian/archivist for digital projects, Schlesinger Library


Want to help build the #MeToo collection? 

Nominate material for us to collect or contribute your own data at schlesinger-metooproject-radcliffe.org

Search Year: 
2018