#BringBackOurActivism

Meredith Lostaglio

Whether or not you read the news, you have probably heard of the 276 Nigerian school girls who were kidnapped to be sold as slaves by armed members of Boko Haram, a terrorist group that believes Western education is a sin. When I read about the situation, the details upset rather than shocked me. While the large scale of the crisis is unsettling, the news is inundated with stories like that of Malala Yousafzai, of women being targets of violence, often for pursuing an education.

But then I noticed the date they had been taken: nearly two weeks before I had heard of the incident. I was startled. How could I not have known about such a large scale affront to human rights? When I asked around, though, no one else had heard the story either. I was equally shocked that Latin had not mentioned the crisis. It soon became clear that the newfound international attention was in large part due to a social media campaign by Nigerian locals outraged at the ineffectiveness of their own government to take action.

By April 24th, ten days after the kidnapping, the hashtag “#BringBackOurGirls” had gone viral and international media began paying attention. The UN and various Western governments were then pressured to get involved through Twitter, a new form of activism for a new generation, a form that holds incredible clout. The Bring Back Our Girls campaign forced concrete political action.

Yet, weeks later as I continued to see filtered Instagram or Facebook photos featuring the masses of first-world nations trying to look serious as they held up a #BringBackOurGirls sign, I became uncomfortable. I could not help but wonder if such photos are more for us then they are for those missing girls. While an effort to forge solidarity with a cause is a positive thing, when people begin to parody and make memes out of such photos, it devalues the impact of this type of involvement. Because of social media’s vast potential for political activism, it can sometimes give a sense of false activism. Hopping on the bandwagon and taking the uncontroversial stance among twitter users for female education becomes more about assuaging the guilt of the photographed, making them feel like they contributed to a movement. This is seemingly harmless until it discourages people from taking real action. The sense of discomfort experienced when we know injustice is happening is incredibly important, not just in mobilizing change but in forcing us to examine how privileged we are. Our generation is notorious for its lack of activism. Maybe that is because we let it end at social media. Take a stand and use the new tools we’ve been given, but realize that our job is not done when we hold up a sign. ]]>