Dove Is Combatting Online Harassment on Oscar Night, One Tweet at a Time


Twitter has made some great contributions to society, from spurring meaningful hashtag activism to organizing social revolutions on the ground. But the site can also be used as a platform to spread hurtful comments, often directed with particular fervor at women and their bodies.

Award shows are fodder for some especially vicious body snarking, as actresses are subjected to demeaning comments about their looks on the red carpet. Now, beauty brand Dove hopes to combat this sexist meanness during Sunday night's Oscar ceremony with its new campaign: #SpeakBeautiful.

Dove's ad announcing the campaign states, "Last year women sent over 5 million negative tweets about beauty and body image." Women are also 50% more likely to post negative rather than positive comments about themselves on social media, according to AdWeek

In order to combat this, Dove has decided to leverage its Twitter account for social change. Dove will identify key words and flag negative tweets so that "self-esteem experts" controlling the handle can tweet "constructive and accessible advice to encourage more positive online language and habits," the brand explained to AdWeek. The #SpeakBeautiful ad promises that "it only takes one positive tweet to spark a trend." 

Of course, as is the case with Dove's other campaigns that target women's body image, it's important to remember that advertisements alone can't fully address the many systemic factors that contribute to women's negative feelings about their appearances. While positive media messages do much to combat the mental health consequences of the many ads that depict women as hypersexualized objects, they hardly address the pervasive cultural attitudes that perpetuate these violent, overly sexual ads.

Though #SpeakBeautiful may not actually do all that much to spark a body positive revolution, it is still notable for treating gendered online harassment as a serious problem. The issue, which female writers have long tried to bring attention to, was perhaps most clearly crystallized in 2014 with the gamergate controversy, during which prominent female game developers and critics were flooded with rape and death threats via social media.

Many prominent female figures have begun to speak out about the emotional, psychological and even financial consequences of such rampant online sexual harassment. While negative comments made about celebrities' bodies on Oscar night are certainly distinct from the serious threats many feminist writers and women in the gaming community have faced, both phenomena are products of a culture that commodifies women, and both highlight the fact that we need to more seriously reflect on the gendered way harassment manifests online.

Will #SpeakBeautiful eradicate the social forces that foster these negative tweets? It's unlikely. But it still may be useful as a model of how social media can be used to inspire confidence in others rather than destroy it. Now that's something to celebrate.

h/t Business Insider