WASHINGTON, D.C. – Last spring when terrorist organization Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of girls in Nigeria and the twitterverse erupted with the #Bringbackourgirls campaign, we wondered at DecodeDC if such hashtag efforts really make a difference.
At the time noted celebrities, human rights figures and even the first lady photographed themselves with signs promoting the hashtag. But as much as the campaign received exponential support, it also met harsh criticism. And some, like conservative personality Ann Coulter, likened it to “slacktivism” instead of activism.
Now, 10 months after the kidnapping, the girls still have not been found, and Boko Haram continues to wreak havoc in Nigeria — not to mention the use of the phrase “Bring Back our Girls” has all but stopped. So the question stands: Did the social media campaign have any impact at all?
Social media’s place in global politics has been mixed. During the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011, sites such as Facebook and Twitter were praised for their ability to help the people in Libya and Egypt communicate with one another and overthrow dictatorships. But there is also another side. Look at ISIS for example. The terrorist organization located in Syria and Northern Iraq is well-known for its current use of Twitter and Facebook to share propaganda or videos of victims the group beheads.
So do twitter hashtag campaigns make a positive difference?
According to one scholar we talked to for our DecodeDC podcast episode on Boko Haram, out Thursday, the answer is yes.
Using the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign as an example, Adotei Akwei, managing director of government relations at Amnesty International, told us, “I believe it’s helpful because the danger is that (the kidnapping) fades into nothing. I believe … it can’t be limited to social media, but social media and messaging are incredibly important. One thing the Nigerian government is, is sensitive to its image. And that in the end may be something that can be of use.”