Mumbai: Beyond exposing India’s sexual harassment problems, the ongoing #MeToo campaign highlights the power of social media in mobilizing people and generating social change. While #MeToo may be the most high-profile movement in India, it is not the first. In 2017, following sexual assaults in Bengaluru, a group of young men and women organised a #IWillGoOut campaign and demonstrated how a hashtag can evolve into a national movement.

In a recent paper in the journal Gender And Development, Divya Titus, one of the key leaders of the #IWillGoOut campaign, dissects the campaign’s roots and analyses the role of social media in translating online support to offline action.

Titus reveals that the #IWillGoOut campaign was triggered by the comments of two politicians blaming victims for the sexual assaults. In response, she sent a Facebook message to 10 friends asking them to join her in a petition demanding public apology and drawing attention to sexual assault in India.

The message garnered a strong response and, within days, the thread had expanded to 200 people. A Facebook page and website were created, which attracted supporters from across India. This online activity culminated in offline action on 21 January 2017 when over 30 events and marches were held across India.

According to Titus, Facebook was the primary catalyst for the campaign because it brought together a community of young feminists and allowed organizers in different cities to coordinate and organize marches. Timing also mattered. The remarks by the politicians created a tipping point, she argues.

One hindrance to the campaign may have been language. According to Titus, most of the #IWillGoOut coverage was by English language news agencies and this may have limited the growth of the campaign. Titus concludes that despite the increasing criticisms of social media platforms, they can still be important for generating social change.

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