On April 15th, several hundred girls were kidnapped in northern Nigeria after extremist Muslim group Boko Haram carried out a raid and attack at the girls’ school. The girls are reported to be sold into forced marriages with militant members of the group. In the days and weeks following the tragedy, the Nigerian government and international organizations were slow to respond. This inaction changed when the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls erupted over social media. Ibrahim M. Abdullahi , a Nigerian lawyer, started the hashtag which quickly gained traction as notable individuals began to take part- including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama. The hashtag garnered thousands of tweets over just a few hours and worked to bring the issue, the kidnapped Nigerian girls, into public purview. The U.S. is now in the process of sending military help to aid in the investigation and search for the missing girls- an action that perhaps is a result of the massive internet attention.
This case exemplifies the extensions of “Hashtag Activism,” a type of political involvement characterized by electronic, not public action. Despite the seemingly successful use of the hashtag for raising consciousness, scores of criticism have been levied against “Bring Back Our Girls” and other similar types of activism. Namely, “Hashtag Activism” has the tendency to de-politicize and de-contextualize complex, interconnected issues of which many in the western world remain uneducated.
What do you think? Are there benefits of “Hashtag Activism”? Or does it reinforce notions of the “white-savior complex” where individuals in the western world attempt to co-opt and appropriate movements and struggles without understanding root causes and cultures? In what ways can we use technology to bring awareness and then use that awareness to act and create justice?