News / Africa

Abduction of Nigerian Schoolgirls Ignites Global Social Media

A screengrab of Ibrahim Abdullahi's tweet, which first used #BringBackOurGirls.
A screengrab of Ibrahim Abdullahi's tweet, which first used #BringBackOurGirls.
The abduction of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls from their boarding school by an Islamic militant group a month ago has created a firestorm on social media.
 
From Twitter to Tumblr to Facebook to a Change.org online petition with more than 900,000 signatures, millions of people worldwide are voicing their outrage at government inaction and spreading word of the girls’ plight with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.
 
However, this attempt to use social media to raise awareness also has its critics, who say that a hashtag or Facebook campaign oversimplifies the events in Nigeria and rarely produces any tangible results.
 
Still, it was the lack of awareness and governmental inaction in Nigeria that was the impetus behind #BringBackOurGirls.
 
Ibrahim Abdullahi, a lawyer in Abuja, Nigeria, is considered the first to use #BringBackOurGirls – on April 23.
 
He was at a UNESCO event in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, where Obiageli Ezekwesili, a former World Bank vice president for Africa, used a similar phrase when referring to the Chibok schoolgirls in a speech.
 
Ezekwesili urged members of the audience to "make a collective demand for our daughters to be released. … We are collectively saying, 'Bring back our daughters.' ''
 
At that point, Abdullahi said, the Nigerian government had not mentioned the girls or taken any action to rescue them.
 
So Ezekwesili’s comment stuck with him.

When he was going to tweet the phrase, Abdullahi said he decided to alter it from “daughters” – because everyone may not have a daughter -- to “girls,” because everyone has one girl in their life.

Going viral

Abdullahi, a prolific tweeter with more than 22,000 tweets, said he regularly uses hashtags. But, he said he had no idea #BringBackOurGirls would become as popular as it has.

Abdullahi has about 800 followers on Twitter. His original tweet started going viral when it was retweeted by Ezekwesili, who has about 128,000 followers.

The hashtag’s first big jump on Twitter happened on April 30, with more than 200,000 mentions, according to the social analytics website Topsy.com.

The increased action occurred on a day when Boko Haram claimed responsibility for taking the girls and said it planned to “sell” them. 

The hashtag was mentioned more than 400,000 times on May 10 when Michelle Obama used President Barack Obama’s weekly radio broadcast to talk about the Nigerian girls. Just three days earlier, the first lady tweeted a photo of herself with the hashtag.

As of this week, #BringBackOurGirls had appeared nearly 3.1 million times on Twitter, according to Topsy.com.

As news of the girls’ abduction spread in Nigeria, several hashtags emerged, said Miranda Neubauer, a TechPresident reporter who wrote about how the hashtag took hold.

Early versions included #ChibokGirls and #WhereAreOurGirls, Neubauer said, adding that the hashtag “became more simplistic as time went on. ... Eventually this one took off.”

She credited the staying power of #BringBackOurGirls with the general frustration in Nigeria that the government wasn’t doing enough to find the girls and the growing awareness of the story in the U.S. media.

“It does something for awareness when you have Michelle Obama use it,” Neubauer said. “The question remains whether this will lead to the ultimate goal that is to bring the girls back.”

Not everyone agrees that “hashtag activism” is the appropriate way to address what is clearly a complicated issue in Nigeria.

Celebrities, heads of state and even Pope Francis have tweeted support for #BringBackOurGirls.

Unintended results

Some experts, however, say the attention could bring unexpected consequences if pressure for a more robust international response continues to build, John Vandiver wrote in Stars & Stripes.

Already, some hawkish U.S. lawmakers in Congress have used the crisis to attack the Obama administration for being soft on terror in northern Nigeria, raising the specter of a push to intensify U.S. military support in the region, Vandiver wrote.

That sentiment was echoed by Jumoke Balogun, a co-founder and co-editor of compareafrique.com.

“You might not know this, but the United States military loves your hashtags because it gives them legitimacy to encroach and grow their military presence in Africa,” she wrote earlier this month.

Also drawing criticism is that a woman from Los Angeles, Calif., seemingly “hijacked” the hashtag movement earlier this month.

In various media reports, Ramaa Mosely, a filmmaker, said she was moved to action after hearing a mention of the Nigerian girls’ abduction on the radio and began using the hashtag to let people know about the story. ABC News credited her with starting the hashtag.

Mosely was accused on Twitter of hijacking the media campaign and later had to tweet that it was Abdullahi who first used the hashtag.

Twitter hashtags
 
In the world of Twitter and hashtags, other events have drawn more mentions.
 
Comedian and Academy Awards host Ellen DeGeneres’ Oscar selfie has been retweeted nearly 3.5 million times.
 
The top hashtag in 2013 was #bostonstrong, which came into use after the bombings at the Boston Marathon in 2013. It has been used more than 27 million times, according to Twitter.
 
What makes #BringBackOurGirls unique is that “you don’t usually see something like a social cause, an international social cause, take off,” said Nikki Usher, professor of media at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs.
 
“The thing that is interesting is there aren’t usually that many international hashtags that take off that aren’t really specifically related to a large incident of civic unrest, like Arab Spring,” Usher said.
 
The girls were abducted April 14.
 
In a 24-hour period ending at noon on Tuesday, #BringBackOurGirls was mentioned 79,037 times on Twitter – nearly once a second.

Abdullahi said he’s pleased that #BringBackOurGirls has gotten the world’s attention and is pressuring the Nigerian government to do more in locating the girls.

Abdullahi said he thinks of the conditions the girls are being held in, an environment they have never been in. When he gets up each day, he said, “I pray for the girls. I  pray for their parents. And I pray for country.”

The increased awareness for the missing girls is a positive for the hashtag campaign, but there is also a downside. It’s also bringing international attention to the militant group Boko Haram and its leader, Abubakar Shekau.
 
"After years of calling out to al-Qaida and taunting world leaders from Barack Obama to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, the outcry over the kidnappings has finally put Shekau in the spotlight,” NBC News’ Cassandra Vinograd writes in the Journal Star in Peoria, Ill.
 
"This is what Shekau always wanted. He's finally gotten placed on the world stage, and this is his time to act," said Jacob Zenn, an African affairs analyst for the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. He also was quoted in the Journal Star article.
Error rendering storify.

You May Like

Photogallery Pistorius Sentenced, Taken to Prison

Pistorius, convicted of culpable homicide in shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, will likely serve about 10 months of five-year sentence, before completing it under house arrest More

UN to Aid Central Africa in Polio Vaccinations

Synchronized vaccinations will be conducted after Cameroon reports a fifth case of the wild polio virus in its territory More

WHO: Ebola Vaccine May Be in Use by Jan.

WHO assistant director Dr. Marie Paule Kieny says clinical trials of Ebola vaccines are underway or planned in Europe, US and Africa More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Stephen Real from: Columbia USA
May 16, 2014 9:08 AM
To really secure a jungle rescue is going to take at least 3000 US Marines with your elite teams in field along with the heavy on the ground and in the air.
This is a pretty big crew these Boko Harem cats.
This is no small potato job on the optics alone.
A job like this is going to take several US fleets to pull off maximum stomp power backing the force (in my opinion).

We're gonna need the Brits

Get in
rescue
and f'in leave man

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid