On April 14, 2014, over 200 Nigerian schoolgirls were abducted from their school by a terrorist group called Boko Haram. The terrorist group, which opposes Western education, has allegedly put the girls on the market to be sold into marriages or sex slavery. Parents, family, and friends of the abducted girls have been utterly devastated over the crisis and want nothing more than to get their girls brought home safely.
The response to this terrible act has been overwhelming, not just by the loved ones of these girls, but by the entire global community. The news media deserves some credit for spreading information about this story, but there’s another outlet that may have been far more powerful in rallying people together against Boko Haram: social media.
The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls and can be seen all over many different social media platforms. It has been used by activists, celebrities, politicians, and concerned citizens the world over. #BringBackOurGirls went viral very quickly and was a hugely successful hashtag; it brought attention to this story in a way that regular news media outlets simply couldn’t have.
Some critics of the hashtag believe that its use has promoted “lazy activism,” or activism that requires no effort (i.e., people simply retweet #BringBackOurGirls or click “Like” and then do nothing about it), and that it hasn’t actually made a difference in the real world. But simply raising awareness has value all on its own, and even the “lazy activists” have made a truly valuable contribution to this cause. Not only has it raised awareness, it has inspired many to take action: protests, petitions, rallies, vigils, and many other activities have been taken place with the goal of helping these young women return to their families. And every time this story was shared, it has promoted solidarity with the people of Nigeria, put pressure on the global community to act, raised awareness of this story and the issue of human trafficking in general, demonstrated the power of social media, and demonstrated a lack of tolerance for the behavior of this terrorist group.
It’s true that hashtags can only go so far: #BringBackOurGirls has brought attention to the crisis in Nigeria, but the responsibility to act as a result has been up to the global community in the “real world.” Many countries have stepped forward and volunteered to give support during this crisis. While Nigeria should take the lead in solving this conflict, it may prove to be very beneficial to have help from other countries as well. Our world leaders need to unite and take action at this critical time. Lives are at stake.