“Actions speak louder than words,” people used to say. But that’s so 20th century. The modern American ethos seems to value how you feel far more than what you do.
Last month, almost 300 girls were kidnapped in Nigeria by the terrorist group Boko Haram. Its leader insists they’ll be sold into slavery; some may have been already. Western leaders have left no doubt they feel bad about all this. Michelle Obama’s pouty-faced photo on Twitter went viral. She’s holding a hand-lettered sign: “#BringBackOurGirls.” British Prime Minister David Cameron also held such a sign on the BBC.
Yet the Western military response has been something less than robust. “A White House spokesman said that experts in intelligence, hostage negotiation and victim assistance would fly to Nigeria,” The Economist reports. “The British offered to send surveillance aircraft along with soldiers from its special forces.” Our outraged attitudes don’t seem to align with our actions.
No doubt Twitter, with its 140-character limit, isn’t the best place to conduct diplomacy. But it’s an excellent place to advertise that you care about something.
In March, U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki waded into the geopolitical debate via social media. She tweeted a photo of herself smiling, giving the thumbs up and holding a #UnitedForUkraine sign. “Russian leader Vladmir Putin sent in troops and tanks to invade neighboring Ukraine and the Obama administration is coming to the rescue with .?.?. selfies!” quipped the New York Post.
When the Russians responded with derision, tweeting out their own #unitedforukraine, Psaki responded that she hoped they would “live by the promise of hashtag.” Meanwhile, her boss was making it clear there would be no military consequences if the Russians failed to do so. “Why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force?” Barack Obama wondered in the Philippines. It’s unclear exactly who “everybody” is. Maybe a rogue tweeter?