When controversy sprung up regarding the sexual misconduct of Julian Assange in 2010, many famous personalities weighed in with their opinions of his guilt or innocence. One of these voices was famed activist filmmaker and (self-proclaimed) feminist Michael Moore. In an interview with Keith Olbermann, Moore stated that he did not believe the intercourse was forced, and instead thought that the woman most likely “freaked out” when a condom broke and rushed to place the blame on Assange. In his portrayal of events, Moore painted a picture of a woman’s incompetence and inconsistency when dealing with consent. In short, he dismissed the (rather serious) accusations of rape out of hand and put up the $20,000 bail for Assange.
Upon hearing these (and a number of other comments), feminist blogger Sady Doyle was outraged. Doyle had founded an activist website called TigerBeatdown, and had been following the case with great interest in how the rape allegations would be handled. Between comments made by Assange’s lawyers, Michael Moore, and conservative news anchor Keith Olbermann, Doyle was floored by the amount of misinformation being spread. In a handy timeline she created, Doyle demonstrated that a number of the information being spread by these “concerned individuals” had already been proven incorrect by the time it was being stated. Furthermore, she documents a singular hostility towards the women who brought forth the allegations. People released their names and identifying information publicly, and painting them as part of a “government/CIA conspiracy” against Assange.
Unable to bear this kind of irresponsible, gender-privileged speech, Doyle took action. She wrote a number of scathing analyses of the situation, and more importantly began a twitter campaign revolving around the #MooreAndMe hashtag. Using this tag, Sady and a number of fellow activists deluged the misinforming parties’ accounts with demands for explanations of their irresponsible and oppressive assertions.
Such a movement would rarely be successful, as in most cases it would be viewed as petulant. But a number of factors contributed to its surprising degree of success. First of all, Twitter proved itself a uniquely qualified platform for such a campaign. By removing the physical and auditory presence of the speakers, it allowed the activists’ arguments to stand on content alone. Conversely, many of the hostile responses to the activists were unable to hide behind an attractive face or mellow voice. It also aided them in the form of being a mass-stage, where the dialogue was presented as a whole and the two sides were unable to segregate themselves. Finally, there was one key element which made this campaign especially successful. In the words of #MooreAndMe co-founder Kate Harding:
“For the record, despite all of the above, if the target had been anyone other than Michael Moore, I would probably not have participated in this campaign. Generally speaking, I’m not much for yelling and screaming at people who clearly don’t want to listen, or demanding that people pay attention to me. (I’ve refused a whole bunch of offers to “debate” anti-feminists and fat haters on TV, for instance, and I’ve written several times about how I’m much better at being a solitary writer than a traditional activist.) But you know who IS all about yelling and screaming at people who clearly don’t want to listen, and demanding that people pay attention and engage with him on his terms? Michael Fucking Moore.”
The fact of the matter is, Michael Moore has made a name for himself as someone who wants to stand up to authority and demand explanations for their selfish decisions. But in this case, he is the one who stood up for an accused rapist and attacked the victims, encouraging people to ignore their accusations and mistrust them. It is only fair that someone stands up to him, confront him, and demand that he be held accountable for the things he has said and done.
And so Doyle and her fellow activists took to the web and questioned this behavior. Through a tireless campaign of interviews, blog posts, and above all twitter streams, they raised awareness for this misinformation. They asked much-needed questions about the motives behind the misinformation. In some cases they even got answers. Keith Olbermann was drawn into a discussion with the activists, and while he fought tooth-and-nail against admitting wrongdoing, he did end up retracting or correcting nearly all his inaccuracies. But more than anything, what the campaign garnered was a response, both negative and positive. For every troll-post aimed at deriding the activists, another concerned individual lent their support to the cause. With the overwhelming flood of tweets, the blame-the-victim mentality of Michael Moore and his associates was not allowed to casually slide by unchallenged.
Sady Doyle is not a widely known name. She did not change the world, or even make a noticeable mark on modern society. But what she did was stand up to the oppressive establishment of a few powerful, self-concerned men who never bothered to consider the victimization of innocent women around the world. She effectively used social media to champion a cause, and did so to surprising amounts of success. Sady Doyle is just another activist on the web, working every day to uphold justice for women worldwide who would otherwise be trampled over.