I’d like to start this off with a bit of truth (albeit somewhat crassly put).
I’ve censored and paraphrased this quote as the original is attributed to someone from the US Special Forces community and not a Sunday School Teacher. Here it is:
“Hashtags, like buttons, and retweets aren’t going to do @#%$ to get those missing Nigerian girls back. It’s just a way for lazy westerners to feel good about themselves without having to sacrifice any of their time, money, or physical safety. This internet heroism is as fake as Chaz Bono’s *^$#. Dudes with guns started this mess. Dudes with guns are going to end it.”
In our western world of celeb worship, we forget that the rest of the world (terrorists in particular) don't really care about sad duck-faces and Hashtag Diplomacy. Over here a trending topic can get you fired and publically shamed for life. In Africa they use AK47s for firings, and machetes for public shaming. Such is the case with Boko Haram. The mere name of this terror group indicates their cause, as the BBC reports that the group “promotes a version of Islam which makes it 'haram', or forbidden, for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society.” If this group militantly hates western influence on these girls, how are they going to feel about a jet-setting 1%er like the First Lady with a hashtag? This group hates the idea of western education. Are they suddenly intimidated by western entertainment and pop culture? Not likely.
If anything, this campaign of internet heroism may serve opposite the purposes of its participants. The Boko Haram group is vehemently anti-western—so if the West disapproves of their actions, they have succeeded. In fact, the publicity is likely welcome for them: the purist group that defied the west and showed the world that they could do whatever they wanted with no more resistance than a formidable twitter campaign. Their name is getting repeated over, and over again. Boko Haram. The little Islamists that could. Every outraged cry against them is a mark of approval in their minds. Peer pressure sucks, and it sucks more against an assault rifle.
“Well,” some might say, “It’s to raise awareness.” Ok. Awareness is cool. But let’s take a trip back in time…to the year 2012. And let’s take a look at a trending topic that might be slightly embarrassing. I’m talking of course about the Invisible Children Project. You might better know it as a 29-minute video called KONY 2012.
Joseph Kony is a cult leader, warlord, and human rights violator in Africa. His big claim to fame is of course the child-soldiers phenomena, which he propagated till the child combatants numbered in the tens of thousands. Kony found himself targeted by western Hashtag Diplomacy in 2012 when the KONY 2012 video was released. The video garnered 99 million views. The Invisible Children project reportedly raised over $8 million dollars. What happened? Exactly nothing. Today Kony is as free today as he was back then. He is supposedly considering surrendering to face the ICC and a host of other consequences. Why? Because of a few million hashtags? Because of vast financial resources marshaled against him? Because of international pressure? No. Because he’s reported to be “in poor health”, he’s 52 now, and he’s tired to being sick out in the jungle and on the run. So what did 99 million views and millions of dollars raised actually buy? Perhaps nothing more than to serve as salve for guilty consciences.
The tragedy of these girls isn’t that this is a first time event. Islamic militants actively use kidnappings and much worse to advance their agenda—and on a weekly basis. The tragedy here is that this is what we’ve been reduced to. Hashtags. Videos. Trending topics, tweets, glib demagoguery, and little else. And somehow, we’re “helping.” The opening quote comes to mind again: “It’s just a way for lazy westerners to feel good about themselves without having to sacrifice any of their time, money, or physical safety.” This is our tragedy: not that such events happened on our watch, but that internet heroism and hashtag diplomacy was the best response we could come up with, and worse, that we thought much of ourselves for our “bravery”. How grateful we are that such “bravery” costs us nothing more than 30 seconds and 140 characters. Tragic, isn’t it?