Welcome to 2018, and as much as we’d like to press forward in the brand-new year and leave behind all that Harvey Weinstein-induced toxicity, we can’t overstate the usefulness of social media in the cultural discourse of rape and sexual misconduct. More importantly also, how social media has been weaponized to take back power from perpetrators as a means for catharsis and self-healing.
If you are not familiar with the T. I Nathan rape allegation story that first erupted on social media in the last week of 2017, here’s a quick summary: a woman with Twitter profile name @arceetwins publicly called out fashion designer Temitayo Nathan and accused him of raping her friend in a blizzard of tweets. The incident happened in February, when her friend, whose name was protected, was in Nathan’s company for a brand-oriented photo shoot and after the photographer left, got raped by the designer. Subsequently, and through his Twitter account which also doubles as a mouthpiece for the T.I Nathan brand, Nathan neatly denied the allegations.
While our emotions swung between empathy for the alleged victim and the possibility that Nathan could be innocent, a tweet excavated from Nathan’s social media past provides damning evidence that suggests that at some point Nathan was vocal about explicitly threatening rape or sexual assault if consent is denied him. Dated back to 2012, the tweet had Nathan musing about raping a woman if she doesn’t give him consent. From the tone, there was a small humour in there and the trappings of online millennial mischief.
This isn’t the first time the Internet has provided a sharp contrast between a person’s ‘official’ voice and their personal one. It is not just the disturbing nature of the tweet that we were forced to process, but also the internet’s profound, infinite power of memory. In the era of receipts as a catchphrase to resolve disputes and the swift reckoning that may follow, we are harnessing the spectrum of benefits the internet can provide, especially through social media.
In one of @arceetwins’s tweets after breaking the rape story, she stated that our belief was irrelevant to her and the intention was to shame the now-beleaguered designer and to forewarn other women. Online shaming, it seems, feels more corrosive when carried out after fermenting over time. It is why the #MeToo movement amassed such cultural force. It is why Kevin Spacey, despite his immense cultural relevance, couldn’t escape the wrecking ball of havoc that splintered his career.
An individual’s social media can reflect their state of mind and views on a range of subjects, and although there’s room for a change of worldview, as when Josh Rivers ideologically evolved from hating lesbians, overweight people, homeless people, and Asians on his Twitter between 2010 and 2015, the consequences of our actions will visit us some day. In Rivers’ case, he was suspended after being newly installed as the editor of Gay Times.
Imagine a random rape victim stumbling on Nathan’s 2012 rape tweet and instantly feeling distressed and re-traumatized. This rape allegation may not be connected to that tweet, but it’s a useful cyber marker of the dangerous views Nathan used to hold and in light of the recent accusation, might still do.
And ultimately it is a reminder that nothing is ever lost to the internet, whatever we put online, we commit to history.