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Network Effects in Hollywood Sexual Assault Cases


Recently, many notable men in Hollywood have been accused of sexual assault, the most notable of them being Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Louis C.K.. When allegations against Weinstein, the founder of Miramax and ex-chairman of The Weinstein Company (as well as sexual predator), came into the public’s eye, it was clear that his behavior went unnoticed because many women did not speak up about it because they were afraid that it would affect their careers. According to Jason Parham, author of the Wired article “After Harvey Weinstein, It’s Time to Ask: Can the System Change?”, “sexual predators who long basked in the light of public favor have been exposed for their repeated, even calculating, mistreatment of women,” and this is because of network effects. For a while, women would not speak out against their perpetrators for one reason or another, and because of this, there were no cues that let other women in the same situation know what to do, so the cascade of silence kept going. Think about it like an example from class: a woman who had endured sexual harassment has two choices—speak to an authority about the situation or don’t (like choosing the red marble or the blue marble). If this woman hasn’t received any cues from others before her, she may think she’s the first person to be harassed by the original perpetrator, and, therefore, will have to make her decision based on how risky her situation is. Many times, it’s riskier to tell a higher authority because there are career, personal, and reputational factors on the line, so the safer choice seems to be to say nothing. Parham asks us, “Can a system as entrenched as this actually change? And if so, what might that look like?” I don’t have an answer, but I do know that in order for this network of sexual predators to change their behaviors, there will have to be a change in the threshold (q, that is).


Many agencies and studios cut their ties with Weinstein and Spacey after the news of their assaults became public. With fewer “neighbors” (i.e. ties with agencies and studios) in Weinstein and Spacey’s networks, they have a higher opportunity to change their behaviors (although that won’t be enough for the public to accept them again because pedophilia and rape are absolutely deplorable) even if the threshold in their network is the same. (The two behaviors in this case are (A) sexual harassment and (B) no sexual harassment.) On the other side, Twitter began to blow up with the hashtag #MeToo. Women would tweet their sexual harassment experiences after prominent and famous women came out about being assaulted by men in their field. This is an example of an information cascade: these famous women gave cues online for other women to talk about their experiences, and this continued across all social platforms, creating a cascade. There is a call to action for “reprogramming what we have allowed” according to Mara Brock-Akil, which means that, within everyone’s network, those who have been A should switch to B because the threshold has lowered due to raised awareness of sexual assault. Tracy Oliver, one of the writers of the movie Girls Trip said, “Now that we’re seeing real consequences, I think men in power will be less likely to abuse that power and, more importantly, I think women will be more empowered to speak up when they’re being put in inappropriate situations.” Not only is the threshold for men lowered so they are more likely to change their behavior, but it is also lowered for women so they are more likely to speak out even if others don’t.


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