Last night, around 9:15 p.m., rooms of viewers watching ABC's Oscars broadcast went silent as an arresting commercial came onscreen. The ad spot, which centered around a spoken word poem written and performed by Denise Frohman, was shown in black and white. As the words of the poem flashed onscreen, the faces of Hollywood leaders and advocates for women's rights — Ava DuVernay, Issa Rae, and Julie Dash, among others — appeared behind them.
The ad's message — that women deserve to be heard and seen, now — felt on point and fit with notable speeches delivered throughout the broadcast, including Frances McDormand's best actress acceptance speech and a Time's Up moment introduced by Salma Hayek, Annabella Sciorra, and Ashley Judd.
But as viewers started taking to their keyboards with reactions to the commercial, the feedback from women was mixed. That's because the ad spot, and it's takeaway hashtag — #HereWeAre — was run by Twitter.
You don't need to be on Twitter to know that the social media platform has been embroiled in controversy over the past year, including claims that instead of raising up women's voices, it shuts them down. Issues with trolls, unexplained account lockouts, and inconsistent enforcement of policies reached a boiling point with in October, when #WomenBoycottTwitter started trending after Harvey Weinstein accuser Rose McGowan was temporarily prevented from accessing her account.
In the months since, Twitter has sought to make amends. New anti-abuse rules went into effect in December as part of an aggressive game plan to revise existing policies. The company also took center stage as a voice for women at the tech industry's biggest event of the year, CES. Leslie Berland, Twitter's CMO and Head of People, launched the #HereWeAre hashtag and led panels with women in tech to protest the lack of female keynote speakers at the January event.
During last night's Oscars broadcast, Berland was the one who responded to women and men who took issue with the ad. Lauren Duca, the writer behind the viral Teen Vogue article "Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America," referred to Twitter's use of the women's empowerment movement in its ad as opportunistic. Others suggested Twitter is caught in a catch-22 situation: On the one hand, it is standing with women in a public way, but at the same time it fails to suspend harassers online.
Berland's responsive tweets were calm and assuring. She seems to recognize Twitter's problems and vows the platform is taking steps toward redemption. Whether these well-meaning words can result in effective action is the lingering question. Women on Twitter went online to say #HereWeAre. Can Twitter give them a place to speak up and spread their message, free from harm?