Is Hashtag Activism Saving or Hindering Kidnapped Nigerian Girls?

Image Courtesy: Michelle Obama Instagram

Image Courtesy: Michelle Obama Instagram

I got into a back-and-forth debate with my best friend yesterday about the usefulness of the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag flooding Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, recently. My bestie thinks the avalanche of hashtag activism for the Nigerian girls will make things even worse rather than helping the girls get reunited with their moms. She pointed out that more girls are getting kidnapped as a result of the attention. And the issue shouldn’t be minimized to scrawling four words on a blank page and hoping Boko Haram will be so embarrassed by the attention they’ll return the teens.

Okay, I get it. I don’t think any of us are so naive to believe Boko Haram, who Al-Qaeda even disapproves of, will be persuaded by our pleas. But, if it wasn’t for the hashtag activism the U.S. wouldn’t be sending aid to them now. Nigeria’s govt wouldn’t be offering $30K reward for those with info on the kidnapping. The hashtag was all the moms could depend on when their voices fell on deaf ears with Nigerian govt, until President Jonathan was pushed (by the trivial hashtags) to speak on the issue.

So, yes, I stand by the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag for awareness. And not only that. What else can we do? How else can we express our anger, heartbreak and disgust as a whole?

These abducted schoolgirls are my sisters and I call on the international community and the government of Nigeria to take action and save my sisters. It should be our duty to speak up for our brothers and sisters in Nigeria who are in a very difficult situation.

–Malala (in interview with NY Times)

I know people are weary of trends. And fear this is another one the West is so easy to adopt and neglect for the next hot topic dripping from social media’s fingertips. So, like Nigerian novelist Teju Cole and sociologist Zeynep Tufekci, ponder the next step in this process and whether it serves its purpose.

All valid points. But, I’d rather be accused of making noise about an issue then staying silent while more people suffer.

How 234 Nigerian Girls Disappeared and The World Doesn’t Notice

image courtesy: @yahwehslovee

image courtesy: @yahwehslovee

I didn’t know 200 Nigerian girls were forced out of their beds on the eve of school exams. I had no knowledge their school was ransacked by militants and burned to ash. And I wasn’t aware the girls were kidnapped and sold for $12 as wives to neighboring militants in other countries. Did you? Or like me, you learned about these details from a picture making its rounds on Instagram and Twitter, take a look below.

image courtesy @vicworldwide

image courtesy @vicworldwide

The caption may tell the story, but the image is worth more than any word(s) a dictionary can offer. But, I’ll give it a shot. A midnight-skinned girl with wide, almond-shaped eyes looks out at us longingly as if asking, “where are you?” Her bangle-strewn arms are spread on a platform concealing her mouth, as a single tear falls on her cheek. This picture has told me more about this heartbreaking encounter than any New York Times article or segment on NBC Nightly News. And it’s a good thing, since we heard nada from those “top” news orgs. In fact, this week was when I started seeing coverage from mainstream news outlets, for a story that occurred in mid-April. However, our cups runneth over on their waterfall news stories about Syria, Ukraine, the missing Malaysia airline, and the shiny new story on the block: NBA commissioner David Silver’s sanctions against Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist rants.

Granted, those stories are necessary and worth reporting. But is their value worth the marathon coverage that is given? Is the Malaysia airline really more important than a teenage Nigerian girl escaping her captors alongside her friends, and 40 of her classmates? Is a racist millionaire banned from visiting an arena more significant than a radical militant group slaughtering young men and women for going to school in northeastern Nigeria?

This story has all the elements for blanket news coverage. Only one problem. Location, location, location. That’s right, if it happened anywhere else, this would be the world’s biggest story. It already was. Remember, just last year the reports of 45 Syrian woman and children kidnapped on a bus by insurgents. Of course, you do because CNN, LA Times, New York Times, BBC, etc. covered it when it was happening.

Now. This. Has. Happened. And it deserves more than #bringbackourgirls on Twitter and Instagram.