The Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study is expanding its “#metoo Digital Media Collection,” a project that began in 2017 to cumulate the digital footprint of the social media-driven #MeToo movement.
Activist Tarana Burke started the #MeToo movement in 2006 to support survivors of sexual abuse. After sexual misconduct allegations embroiled Hollywood director Harvey Weinstein in October 2017, the movement gained momentum as sexual abuse survivors took to Twitter and other social media platforms to share their stories using the hashtag.
Harvard Law School professor Jeannie Suk Gersen, a member of the project’s steering committee, said she joined the project because she believes it is “very important” for the library to preserve digital data from the movement.
“It would be entirely appropriate for the Schlesinger to start to document and archive materials relating to the #MeToo movement from the perspective of gender and the law,” she said.
Schlesinger Library Director and steering committee chair Jane Kamensky explained how the expansive network of the digital #MeToo movement necessitated a novel approach to gathering information for the collection.
“We set out to collect as much as we could of the Twitter record of a movement built around the hashtag, and all of the other hashtags that engaged in chorus,” Kamensky said. “So this meant that we built rather than received the collection, which is a different kind of process for the library.”
Kamensky said collecting data from social media poses unique challenges. She said the library must adjust to this method of data collection if it wants to accurately collect the footprint of future social movements.
Head of Digital Collections and Services at Schlesinger Library Jennifer Weintraub said working with digital data was a new experience for her, as she sifted through Twitter bots to build a corpus that is limited to “actual human beings tweeting.”
Weintraub said the project also raised ethical questions among the steering committee members.
“Why are we doing this? Who could we be hurting? What are we thinking about? Why is this important?” Weintraub said. “Thinking out our project and what we were doing and why, and writing it down on our website enabled us to feel more confident about what we were doing.”
Weintraub added that the steering committee was able to address other ethical issues by working with faculty members who have experience working with large datasets.
Kamensky said she hopes the unique set of data gathered by the project will serve different sets of researchers.
“It allows us to serve different communities of researchers who know how to encounter history in the form of huge data rather than history in the form of tiny data, which is what it’s like to study a series of letters or a diary. So we’re engaging with new communities of researchers, which is really exciting for us,” Kamensky said.
Weintraub also pointed to the possibility of expanding the scope of the Schlesinger Library’s project.
“We’re not a monolith, and #MeToo might not mean as much to certain segments of American women,” she said. “But it would be interesting to sort of tease it out, and maybe there’s better hashtags.”
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