Over 20 years ago, during a custody battle with girlfriend Mia Farrow, director Woody Allen was accused of molesting Dylan Farrow, his adopted daughter. In early February of this year, Dylan published an open letter in The New York Times regarding her alleged molestation. The letter reignited the debate and rage surrounding Allen’s controversial past. Yet, these flames are not being fanned by the prospect of Allen’s film “Blue Jasmine” winning an Oscar. Rather, social media is causing this 22-year-old case to combust.
When Allen’s case first came to light in 1992, social media was not a factor. So when Farrow and Allen were first hashing it out in the courts, the only media in which the case was discussed were traditional outlets, such as newspapers, magazines and television. The opinions given were limited to those of the journalists who had access to these outlets. This restriction facilitated Allen’s ability to mobilize his pull on New York media outlets to limit the amount of negative press.
Social media have changed that. Opinions are now readily available and are not just exclusive to journalists. Anyone can say anything at any time and all they need is Internet access. The strong responses which followed Farrow’s letter are opinions that Allen cannot control.
Today, public opinion can be swayed by whoever has the best grip on how social media work. The Twitter-savvy Farrows have been able to use social media to regain the ground they lost in the 1990s. After Allen was honored at the Golden Globes ceremony in January, Ronan Farrow tweeted his disgust about the Globes ignoring his sister’s case. Mia, like her son, expressed outrage via the same medium. The pair’s presence on social media has caused the case to become viral and has moreover familiarized the public with their point of view.
The power dynamic between Allen and Farrow has definitely changed. Allen, who once had control over the media surrounding the case, is now disadvantaged — according to many sources, he cannot even work a computer. In the ’90s, Allen could talk to a reporter or hold a magazine interview, which is what people following the case saw. But now, in the age of social media, the effects of journalism are meager compared to the power of a tweet or a Facebook post. Allen’s response was greatly overshadowed by the social media presence working against him.
The stark shift in power dynamics is not the only side effect. Social media have also blown this case vastly out of proportion. In 1977, Roman Polanski was charged with having sex with a 13-year-old girl. While Polanski ended up having to flee the country to avoid charges, he still won an Academy Award in 2003 without half as much of the insanity that is currently surrounding the Allen debacle. The power dynamic has shifted, and public opinion has responded. Nevertheless, the social media firestorm surrounding them is excessive. Ultimately, this case is a personal matter, one that should be resolved within the family and not on Twitter.
Lena Rawley is a staff columnist. Email her at [email protected]