How social media opened the world's eyes to Nigerian schoolgirls' kidnapping


By Benjamin Haslem

"I realize that it seems like a hashtag is a trivial thing. But actually it's not. It's an SOS to the world."

The quote above is from Ramaa Mosley, a Los Angeles commercials and documentary director and mother of two.

The hashtag she is referring to: #BringBackOurGirls

The SOS to the world was a call to action through social media to developed and powerful nations to save 276 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram on 15 April.

Mosley heard about the kidnapping on her car radio on 19 April. Upset, she went online and found some news on the abductions on African websites "but couldn't find anything else in the United States".

Mosley, like others on Twitter, began tweeting the hashtag to "Barack Obama, my senators in California, to any celebrity that I could think of and within a few hours, I started getting responses".

As of 7 May #BringBackOurGirls has been tweeted over 800,000 times.

The hashtag was created in Nigeria by locals enraged by a lack of action by their national government and the indifference of the western media.

It worked. Suddenly there was an outpouring of press coverage internationally of the kidnappings and the origins and motivations of Boko Haram, which incidently has been engaged in a reign of terror in Nigeria since 2009, killing some 5,000 people.

As Mother Jones' Erika Eichelberger explains: the kidnapping and the initial radio silence "hit a nerve in the Nigerian diaspora and among communities of color, and in particular women and girls," says Adotei Akwei, a former Africa advocacy director for Amnesty International. 

Christopher Anzalone, an expert on political violence and terrorism at McGill University, agrees. "I think that the media in certain places, such as the United States, which did not initially report much on the most recent kidnapping, may be trying to 'make up' for their tardiness."  

The onslaught of media coverage also spurred the Obama administration into action with US Secretary of State John Kerry offering to send a team to Nigeria to help search for the girls.

Mosley also created a Facebook page, which at writing has over 75,000 likes.

The Daily Mail online has an excellent gallery of photographs uploaded on social media.