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

    Chechen Suspected in Istanbul Attack, but Questions Remain

    Turkish sources say North Caucasus militants involved in bombing at Ataturk airport, but name of at least one alleged attacker raises doubts

    With Johnson Out, Can a New ‘Margaret Thatcher’ Save Britain?

    Contest to replace David Cameron as Britain’s prime minister started in earnest Thursday with top candidates outlining strategy to deal with Brexit fallout

    US Finds Progress Slow Against Human Trafficking in Africa

    Africa continues to be a major source and destination for human trafficking of all kinds -- from forced labor to sexual slavery, says State Department report

    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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Eitheri
    X
    Jim Malone
    June 29, 2016 6:16 PM
    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora