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

    Turkey, US Splits Deepen Over Support for Kurdish Militants

    Ankara summons American ambassador to protest remarks by State Department spokesman who said Washington does not consider Syria's Kurdish Democracy Union Party (PYD) a terrorist organization

    Obama Seeking $19 Billion for National Cybersecurity

    Move, touted as attempt to build broad, cohesive federal response to cyberthreats, calls for increase in cybersecurity spending across all government agencies

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire, who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen

    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.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.