Twitter sparked controversy Sunday night by running a television commercial during the Oscars that was taken as a tribute to female empowerment and a nod to the #MeToo movement. It wasn’t the ad’s message that prompted the criticism, but rather the company delivering it. Many accuse Twitter of being slow to police the rampant harassment of women on its platform.
The ad featured a poem written and performed by Denice Frohman, a New York City-born poet.
“I heard a woman becomes herself the first time she speaks without permission,” Frohman says, later imploring women to “Say ‘brave’ and wear your skin like a gown, or a suit. Say ‘hero,’ and cast yourself in the lead role.” (Scroll down to see the full poem.)
Frohman’s poem appeared word-by-word over short black-and-white video and static clips of women, including filmmakers Ava DuVernay and Julie Dash, documentarian Jennifer Brea and “Insecure” director and actress Issa Rae.
Twitter used the poem in 2017 for its digital-only #SheInspiresMe campaign featuring actresses Alicia Silverstone and Mena Suvari.
But its impact was arguably heightened during the Oscars, which regularly draws more than 30 million viewers. The ad’s timing was particularly symbolic, since the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements began with the exposure of a Hollywood mogul, Harvey Weinstein.
The commercial ended with the hashtag #HereWeAre, which first appeared in December when Twitter chief marketing officer Leslie Berland announced that a group of female leaders would be appearing during Twitter’s event at the CES technology show.
Now, a golden Venus symbol — the traditional female symbol — appears next to the hashtag when anyone uses it on Twitter.
“Twitter aired the best #Oscars commercial ever. Poetic and stunning. Beautiful,” tweeted one user.
Others, though, criticized Twitter as hypocritical for releasing a “stunning” commercial while not dedicating enough resources to eradicating harassment by Twitter users.
The company has long been attacked by critics who say it doesn’t adequately police its users who engage in hate speech and sexual harassment. Last year, thousands of women promised to boycott Twitter after it temporarily suspended actress Rose McGowan — one of the loudest voices of the #MeToo movement, who accused Weinstein of raping her — for tweeting “a private phone number.”
“This #HereWeAre Twitter commercial just gave me chills. That was stunning,” tweeted author Luvvie Ajayi, who added, “Now. Twitter, we shall await your continued work to make this platform safer for women who look like those in that commercial.”
Others were a bit harsher.
“#HereWeAre still watching as Twitter does little to nothing about the rampant misogyny & racism that infects this space,” tweeted feminist author Jessica Valenti.
“How about you spend the money you used on this ad to hire moderators to kick accounts that terrorize women off your platform?” tweeted TEDTalks social media editor Ella Dawson. “How about you hire more engineers who aren’t men to build your platform so that you don’t have giant blind spots putting users at risk?”
How about you spend the money you used on this ad to hire moderators to kick accounts that terrorize women off your platform?— cruella dawson (@brosandprose) March 5, 2018
How about you hire more engineers who aren’t men to build your platform so that you don’t have giant blind spots putting users at risk? #HereWeAre https://t.co/RBDtfYkKQY
Twitter has not responded to the criticisms, although chief executive Jack Dorsey on Thursday admitted that the company has seen “abuse” and “harassment” and isn’t “proud of how people have taken advantage of our service, or our inability to address it fast enough.”
” … We didn’t fully predict or understand the real-world negative consequences,” Dorsey tweeted. “We acknowledge that now, and are determined to find holistic and fair solutions.”
A Twitter spokeswoman did not respond to The Washington Post’s request for comment.
Frohman, who describes herself as a “queer woman from a multi-cultural background” is well known for other works, including a poem titled “Dear Straight People,” which, in part reads:
Dear Straight People
Who do you think you are?Do you have to make it so obvious that I make you uncomfortable?Why do I make you uncomfortable? Do you know that makes me uncomfortable?
Poetry gifts us with the opportunity to take back our power & name ourselves. To ignite & incite. It’s an invitation to our fullest selves. I’m grateful to these women & the many versions of womanhood, and to the queer women of color who’ve nurtured my voice. #HereWeAre https://t.co/bP8voJ8M9Y— Denice Frohman (@denicefrohman) March 5, 2018
Here is the full text of Frohman’s poem in the Twitter ad:
I heard a woman becomes herself the first time she speaks without permission.
Then every word out her mouth, a riot.
Say “beautiful” and point to the map of your body.
Say “brave” and wear your skin like a gown, or a suit.
Say “hero,” and cast yourself in the lead role.
When a girl pronounces her own name, there is glory.
When a woman tells her own story, she lives forever.
If this poem is the only thing that survives me, tell them, this is how I happened.
Tell them, I built me a throne.
Tell them, when we discovered life on another planet, it was a woman — and she built a bridge, not a border.
I heard this is how you make history.
This is how you create a new world.
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