April 15th 2014 will forever go down as one of the darkest periods of our national history. On that tragic night, 276 secondary school girls aged 16 to 18 were abducted from their dorm rooms and were and still are being held hostage.
Initial reports from the Nigerian military were inconsistent about the abduction. Since their abduction in 2014, these poor girls have been carried deep into the Sambisa forest and over the borders into neighboring Chad and Cameroon, used as slaves and forced into marriage.
With the Nigerian military allegedly being unable to contain and handle the situation, the international response has been incredible not least being helped by the most unlikeliest of tools – the hashtag.
On April 23rd 2014 Ibrahim Abdullahi created the “#bringbackourgirls” social media hash tag campaign and put Boko Haram’s terrorist activities in the spotlight. Since then, the campaign has exploded on social media driven by outrage and the desire to reunite these girls with their families.
This social media campaign however wasn’t entirely directed at Boko Haram but also directed to the Nigerian government and mainstream media for their perceived ignorance surrounding this tragedy. Messages claiming that if the kidnapped girls were European, it would attract far more media coverage and the international community would respond.
This is unfortunately the sad truth. If 200 girls were kidnapped in say France, It would make headline news worldwide. Probably because these aren’t common occurrences in Europe. The media will only cover news that they think people want to hear. A lot of these terrorist activities have pretty much gone unnoticed by media.
Boko Haram began their bloody insurgency and have been killing people since 2009. They have committed countless atrocities least of all the burning of secondary schoolboys as the they slept at a boarding school in Yobe, Or that targeted killings of other religious groups where people are hacked to death and gunned down in villages – I could go on and on.
The need to bring awareness to the international community of the carnage Boko Haram have inflicted intensified. When the Chibok girls were kidnapped, that really was the turning point. The time when the world needed to know what was going on in Nigeria.
Hashtag activism is a new thing and is very effective in bringing attention about events like this to the international community. The beauty about the #bringbackourgirls campaign is that those using it don’t only want to create awareness but also have a strong desire to see these girls rescued and reunited with their families.
In any case, the #bringbackourgirls campaign has gotten phenomenal support all over the world. More prominently from the First Lady of the united States Michelle Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron. It has certainly gotten the attention of world leaders and has put the issue on top of their agendas.
This may seem like progress but that really is only half the battle. Hashtag activism is unique because people like you and I use it because we do not have the power politicians have and we also want them to act.
Since its inception on April 23rd, it only took three weeks for the #bringbackourgirls campaign to reach 3.3 million tweets according to the BBC. The top three countries involved in the campaign as of May13th 2014 were Nigeria, the United States of America and The United Kingdom.
The heat map above is actually consistent with this data. As you can see the #bringbackourgirls campaign is truly global with the most engagement spanning across 4 continents.
Hashtag activism isn’t without its imperfections. News whether true or false can spread very quickly. In particular, false news can go around the world several times before the truth is actually confirmed. One of the early and poplar images used with the hashtag was tweeted by Chris Brown.
The girl in the picture was not kidnapped let alone Nigerian for that matter. Even the tear drop on her left cheek was edited but that didn’t stop others from using it. For reference sake the original image can be viewed here.
Hashtag activism even with its flaws is still effective. Everyone including the media are always on Facebook and Twitter to see what’s trending and what people are talking about. This also includes politicians who want votes and try to get re-elected – involve themselves in these trending issues.
Increased pressure from the #bringbackourgirls campaign forced former president Goodluck Jonathan to accept foreign help in finding these girls. The creator of the campaign Ibrahim Abdullahi said “I’m so glad #BringBackOurGirls has become so big. The pressure has mounted and the Nigerian government has no choice but to sit down and come up with a solution.” The rest of the interview can be viewed here.
As far fetched as it may sound, terrorists are on social media too. Groups like ISIS, Al-Qaeda and Al-Shabab use social media extensively to spread their terror because of its accessible nature. Exposing their atrocities may fulfill their twisted aims but a strong campaign such as the #bringbackourgirls may soon lead to their downfall.
So where are we after over a year of waiting? 57 girls were lucky to escape but not one girl has been rescued since. With 219 girls seemingly still at large. Even with all the foreign intervention Nigeria has received, little progress has been made.
United States surveillance planes did spot what they believed to be the girls but since that time, the girls have been split up and the Nigerian military buckled under the pressure. One can even say the Nigerian government’s failure to deal with the situation played some part in their loss in the 2015 general elections.
Boko Haram have at the same time intensified their terrorist activities in Nigeria. The statistics provided by the Council of Foreign Relations show that an estimated 40,000 Nigerians have been killed by the terrorists.
The #bringbackourgirls social media campaign was supposed to be a turning point in the fight against terror. The Chibok girls are just one group of countless other girls who have been kidnapped and are also still missing.
For the most part, the #bringbackourgirls social media campaign has only served to show the world what the Nigerian government has purportedly failed to do, and also highlighted the need for regional cooperation in the fight against terror. However, what still remains is that the girls have yet to be found and reunited with their families.
We can hope that the new government can bring an end to this insurgency and finally give us closure on the Chibok girls. I still remain hopeful they will be found.
The past three years has witnessed the birth of hash tag activism globally, starting with the #kony2012, social media has been used to raise awareness for causes to the benefit of mankind. Are there other social media tactics that you can use to raise awareness? I would love to hear them in the comments below.