I’m not among those who object to the Twitter campaign focusing on the kidnapping and enslaving of hundreds of Nigerian school girls. As syndicated columnist, Charles Krauthammer has pointed out, hashtagging one’s outrage is “just the cyber equivalent of the mass petition,” a way to draw the attention of governments and the major media which, as I’ve pointed out, have tended to give short shrift to the spread of Islamism in Africa.
I do have a question about the hashtag itself: #BringBackOurGirls. But before we get to that, a little background on how the phrase went global may be helpful. According to reporter Brian Ries, it was Oby Ezekwesil, a vice president of the World Bank for Africa, who first publicly demanded “Bring back the girls!” at an unrelated event in the Nigerian city of Port Harcourt on April 23rd. Two men in the audience tweeted her remarks using #BringBackOurGirls. Later in the day, Ms. Ezekwesil did too.
The phrase “hummed along until April 30 when news broke that hundreds of the girls would likely be shared with Islamic militants as wives — read: sex slaves — or sold for $12 at local markets.” At that point, “Twitter reacted with fury that the girls were missing — and their story wasn't being told.” Before long, celebrities were tweeting the hashtag to their thousands of followers guaranteeing that the story would move up the media ladder next to Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 and Donald Sterling.
Now to my question: To whom is the demand to bring back the girls directed? I’d guess that Ms. Ezekwesil, who is Nigerian, was speaking to her own government – which is not famous for its resolve and efficiency.
But what about Michelle Obama who was photographed holding up a piece of paper reading #BringBackOurGirls? If she wanted to send a message to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan couldn’t she have gotten him on the phone? And if she wanted to tell the leader of the Free World that he’s not doing enough, surely she has more direct means at her disposal.
Amnesty International launched a Tumblr campaign to show that "the world is watching, and cares and is trying to help free them.” Do the folks at Amnesty believe “the world” works that way? Really?