How was #MeToo movement's impact? Study shows coverage sympathetic, not necessarily empowering
The campaign gained momentum last year and encouraged women to share their stories.
A Carnegie Mellon University analysis of #MeToo media coverage shows accusers are often portrayed as sympathetic, but with less power and agency than their alleged perpetrators.
The paper was presented by graduate student Anjalie Field in Florence, Italy, last month at the Association of Computational Linguistics conference.
"The goal of the movement is to empower women, but according to our computational analysis that's not what's happening in news stories," said Yulia Tsvetkov, assistant professor in the School of Computer Science's Language Technologies Institute.
Tsvetkov's research team used natural language processing (NLP) techniques to analyse online media coverage of #MeToo narratives that included 27,602 articles in 1,576 outlets. They also looked at how different media outlets portrayed perpetrators and considered the role of third-party actors in news stories.
"Bias can be unconscious, veiled and hidden in a seemingly positive narrative," said Tsvetkov. "Such subtle forms of biased language can be much harder to detect and to date, we have no systematic way of identifying them automatically. The goal of our research was to provide tools to analyse such biased framing."
Their work draws insights from social psychology research and looks at the dynamics of power, agency, and sentiment, which is a measurement of sympathy.
"We were inspired by previous work that looked at the meaning of verbs in individual sentences," Tsvetkov said. "Our analysis incorporates context." This method allowed her team to consider much longer chunks of text, and to analyse narrative.
The research team developed ways to generate scores for words in context and mapped out the power, sentiment, and agency of each actor within a news story.
Their results show that the media consistently presents men as powerful, even after sexual harassment allegations.
Tsvetkov said this threatens to undermine the goals of the #MeToo movement, which is often characterised as "empowerment through empathy."
The team's analysis also showed that the people portrayed with the most positive sentiment in #MeToo stories were those not directly involved with allegations, like activists, journalists, or celebrities commenting on the movement, such as Oprah Winfrey.
This study proposes different methods for measuring power, agency and sentiment, and analyses the portrayals of characters in movie plots, as well as prominent members of society in general newspaper articles.
One of the consistent trends detected is that women are portrayed as less powerful than men. This was evident in an analysis of the 2016 Forbes list of most powerful people. In news stories from myriad outlets about women and men who ranked similarly, men were consistently described as being more powerful.
"These methodologies can extend beyond just people," Tsvetkov said. "You could look at narratives around countries, if they are described as powerful and sympathetic, or unfriendly, and compare that with reactions on social media to understand the language of manipulation, and how people actually express their personal opinions as a consequence of different narratives."
Tsvetkov said she hopes this work will raise awareness of the importance of media framing. "Journalists can choose which narratives to highlight in order to promote certain portrayals of people," she said.