The Big Q: Can a Hashtag Bring Back Nigerian Girls?

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The abduction of Nigerian girls has drawn attention of the entire world through social media. Various social media platforms are witnessing a flurry of messages for the schoolgirls, who are held captive by the dreaded Islamist insurgent group Boko Haram.

Tweeting about the horrific incident and posting comments on Facebook are all fine, but certainly not enough. The parents of the abducted girls are having sleepless nights, but so far all they have got are hashtags.

It has been two weeks since the girls were kidnapped, and the international community is rightly outraged. They have been venting their anger on Twitter, but nothing has changed much on ground. The girls are still held captive, and there seems little visible action to ensure their safe release.

Around, 2.1 million tweets using #BringBackOurGirls have been posted, according to Topsy, a site that offers Twitter analytics. Interests were low until last week, when celebrities including singer Chris Brown sent messages that were widely circulated. More than 380,000 hashtags were carried out till May 7, 2014, including one from Michelle Obama, which has been retweeted more than 53,000 times.

The acclaimed Nigerian-American author Teju Cole, writing for the New Yorker, called the abductions Twitter’s “cause of the day.” Writing on Twitter, he suggested the hashtag campaign was accomplishing little, saying: “For four years, Nigerians have tried to understand these homicidal monster. Your new interest (thanks) simplifies nothing, solves nothing.”

Gordon Coonfield, a Villanova University professor who studies new media, said the story of Nigerian girls is following a familiar arc, in which interest is ignited and then quickly dissipates.

“The drama presents an opportunity to the masses to casually adopt the hashtag as their cause. People can care so fiercely at this moment only on the condition that they can completely forget about it tomorrow,” he said.

“Social media won’t find them, but it could fuel broader discussions and the reason behind the abductions.This will happen only if we can sustain a network of attention longer than 140 characters.”


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