As the #MeToo movement unfurled, I watched in horror – but not surprise – as right gave way to might. This was hashtag politics, after all, and what began as a much-needed wake-up call quickly became the baying of the mob. Rumours circulated, allegations followed and heads began to fall at a rate of knots, all before the law could get a look-in. It soon became clear that the hordes of the digitally equipped righteous weren’t interested in legal justice: they wanted nothing less than a total moral cull, enacted through the terrifying dynamics of virtual stoning.
A few brave souls – including writers Margaret Atwood, Germaine Greer, and Lionel Shriver – wondered out loud what had happened to due process. In a powerful moment of feminist dissent, Atwood voiced concerns about the treatment of the Canadian creative writing professor, Steven Galloway, who was dismissed from his post at the University of British Columbia following allegations of sexual misconduct. «Temporary vigilante justice can morph into a culturally solidified lynch-mob habit,» she noted, warning that legal justice was being «thrown out the window» and «extralegal power structures» put in their place.
The cost of defending due process in the face of hashtag outrage has been made clear. So I was heartened last week to read that due process still has its fans. Speaking at the Berlin film festival, where she is head of the jury, the beautiful Juliette Binoche went so far as to wish for the end of mob rule on Harvey Weinstein, #MeToo’s first and biggest monster. She suggested that even in his despicable case, the court of public opinion, and the punishments it metes out, should now be suspended to make way for quieter, more sober legal justice. «A lot of people have expressed themselves,» said Binoche. «Now justice has to do its work.»