By Tom Hals
(Reuters) - The Harvey Weinstein rape trial opened in January with celebrity appearances, noisy protests and graphic accounts of alleged assaults - and a spike in usage of the #MeToo hashtag that has become closely associated with the former Hollywood powerbroker.
More than two years after the allegations against Weinstein went public and fueled the use of the hashtag, thousands of people continue to use it to share experiences and debate sexual harassment.
"It speaks to the staying power and longevity of #MeToo," said Kellan Terry of research firm Brandwatch.
His firm found the hashtag was viewed 42 billion times and was mentioned 4 million times in 2019 across social media and news sites.
Weinstein has pleaded not guilty to sexually assaulting two women. Since 2017, more than 80 women have accused him of sexual misconduct. He has said any sexual encounters were consensual.
While activist Tarana Burke began using the phrase "Me Too" online in 2006 to raise awareness about sexual assault, it went viral in the days after the Weinstein allegations were first reported in October 2017. Actress Alyssa Milano wrote on Twitter on Oct. 15, 2017: "If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet."
A week before her tweet, #MeToo was mentioned 312 times on social media and news sites, according to research firm Meltwater. In the week that followed her tweet, it rocketed to 1.4 million mentions.
Activity has tailed off and general hashtags such as #funny and #tbt have always been more widely used. Still, #MeToo occasionally ranks among top trending political hashtags with more than 30,000 mentions in a day, according to Brandwatch.
It has peaked again with the Weinstein trial, which started on Jan. 6. The hashtag had 274,000 mentions across social media and news sites between Jan. 1 and Jan. 23, according to Meltwater. By comparison, #Soleimani was mentioned 153,000 times over the same period, after the Jan. 3 death of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani.
There have been attempts to co-opt the phrase or cash in.
Procter & Gamble Co's Gillette launched #TheBestMenCanBe ad a year ago that combined mentions of #MeToo with an anti-bullying message and images of well-groomed men.
A winemaker, cosmetics company and law firm were among the businesses that have applied for a #MeToo trademark.
Some businesses were using the phrase prior to Milano's viral tweet.
Me Too Shoes was founded in 1996. President Adam Tucker said customers have urged the company to keep its name, and after #MeToo took off, it began donating a portion of sales to an anti-violence charity.
Derek Nelson, 22, of New York, was developing his MeToo social networking app for college students when the Weinstein allegations gave the name new meaning.
He said it has not exactly been a boon. Some students seem surprised to learn of a movement by the same name and will ask if he's heard of it.
"I'm like, 'Where have you been?'" said Nelson.
(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Jonathan Oatis)