The Bring Back Our Girls Campaign is working: Boko Haram should be scared of a hashtag

Social media campaigns have their faults, but they make politicians sit up and listen

 

Share

Boko Haram must be quaking in their boots. These ‘Islamic’ militants have razed entire villages to the ground, hacked men to death and killed children as they slept, but now the West has a hashtag campaign.

#BringBackOurGirls has exploded across social media, powered by a desire to reunite 200 kidnapped Nigerian girls with their parents as well as a strong sense of outrage. Facebook and Twitter are well adapted mediums for protest, yet often the complaints made were not against Boko Haram, but against what was seen as the mainstream media’s wilful ignorance of the girls’ kidnap. A volley of tweets argued that “if these children were white European girls, countries would do something.” They are right. If 200 girls had gone missing in Spain, whether white or black, there would have been far more coverage. Not because of media racism but because such events in Europe are unheard of and therefore in industry terms, more newsworthy. Many of us have been on holiday to Spain and it is a sad fact of humanity that we care more about things we can imagine happening to us.

The media weren’t ignoring those girls. Reports from the Associated Press and Reuters captured the attention of those who first began campaigning to bring them home. News bulletins didn’t give the issue prominence, but that’s because the media gives their audience what they think they want. All organisations have to shift papers, get clicks and bring in viewers . In February alone, 60 boys were burnt to death as the they slept at a boarding school in Yobe. That same month 150 Christian men were hacked to death and gunned down in a village in central Nigeria. There was no hashtag in February. If readers don’t suggest they are interested in Boko Haram (which given the lack of Western outrage in February, it would be easy to assume), then there will be no primetime coverage.

Read More: What can be done about Boko Haram
Jumping on the #BringBackOurGirls bandwagon won't help

Hashtag activism is a new phenomenon and campaigning in this way has its faults. It can be a brilliant way to bring a campaign to people's attention, but presumably those using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls want to do more than just spread awareness-they want those girls brought home. Getting people like Michelle Obama and David Cameron to hold up a slogan and pull a concerned face is not mission accomplished. We, the people, use a hashtag because we don't have the power that these leaders have. I want influential people to act, not update their status.

The other problem with hashtag activism is that information spreads very fast on social media and an inaccurate image or tweet goes twice around the world before the truth has time to put on his tie. One of the most powerful posters attached to the #BringBackOurGirls was tweeted by renowned feminist and rapper Chris Brown. It was also used by the US embassy in Madrid, Kim Kardashian and global girls rights activist Becky Makoni. It was a picture of a girl from Guinea Bissou, a country more than 1000 miles away from Nigeria. It was taken by photographer Ami Vitale in 2000, the girl in question, Jenabu Balde,  was not kidnapped, and the tear drop running down her face had been photoshopped on. The original picture is here.

This is not a picture of a kidnapped Nigerian girl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet despite being simplistic and at times hypocritical, hashtag activism can work. The media watches Facebook and Twitter to see what issues people care about. Politicians read newspapers: they also want to get votes. If they see a course of action is popular they’ll try and own that issue. France's president offered to host a summit on Boko Haram. Goodluck Jonathan is now willing to accept Western help, and hashtag activism has gone a long way into pressurising him into that decision.

It’s not just politicians and the media watching social media. Boko Haram might be militants, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t on Twitter. Terrorists want to spread terror and are increasingly using social media due to the accessible, affordable platform it provides. Giving their acts of atrocity airtime may fuel their aims, but the widespread condemnation such campaigns bring may also serve as a foil. Either way, they are listening to what we say. Groups like Al Qaeda and Al Shabab use social media extensively: it’s not beyond the realms of possibility to imagine them employing a social media editor in the future. If hashtag activism really spits in their custard, such an employee may tell his boss ‘this #bringbackourgirls meme, well, it’s going to make our lives hell and  it’s just not worth it.’  For all that is wrong with hashtag activism, it is only going to get more powerful in the future. It’s not to be sniffed at.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Ventilation Cleaning Operative

£15600 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

After Savile, we must devote our energies to stopping child abuse taking place right now

Mary Dejevsky
A ‘hugely irritated’ Sir Malcolm Rifkind on his way home from Parliament on Monday  

Before rushing to criticise Malcolm Rifkind, do you know how much being an MP can cost?

Isabel Hardman
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower