Michelle Obama Posts #BringBackOurGirls Selfie. Will It Really Help?
Here's the latest twist in hashtag activism: Wednesday afternoon, First Lady Michelle Obama posted a selfie holding a sign reading #BringBackOurGirls. It's not exactly a "selfie", as the professional photo shows the First Lady in the White House, looking both dignified and concerned.
— The First Lady (@FLOTUS) May 7, 2014
Of course, other high-profile people have joined the campaign to find the over 200 Nigerian teenage girls who were abducted last month by the Muslim extremist group Boko Haram. Here are some of the other familiar faces who are speaking out on Twitter, using both the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag and the related #RealMenDontBuyGirls:
— Malala Fund (@MalalaFund) May 4, 2014
— Angie Goff (@OhMyGOFF) May 7, 2014
— J | #ShapeAfrica2014 (@omojuwa) May 8, 2014
Part of me thinks it's great that such high-profile people are joining in this grassroots movement. But it doesn't totally sit well with me. I think it's great that they are raising awareness about the Nigerian girls who have been missing for three weeks, but where was this support in mid-April, when Boko Haram had just stolen the teens in the middle of the night from their boarding school?
A quick check of Twitter shows other people who have doubts about the First Lady's tweet:
Hashtag Activism equates to: "I feel I can do nothing but spread the word." So why is effing Michelle Obama holding up #BringBackOurGirls???
— Frances Bodomo (@tobogganeer) May 8, 2014
— JuanOfAKind (@nitabug0423) May 8, 2014
— Nazrana Yousufzai (@NazranaYusufzai) May 8, 2014
Like Michelle Obama, other world leaders and international journalists are also tweeting their support:
— Ms.FoundationWomen (@msfoundation) May 8, 2014
— U.S. Mission Nigeria (@USEmbassyAbuja) May 8, 2014
— Christiane Amanpour (@camanpour) May 8, 2014
These are people who are already in positions of power, who have influential platforms to get their messages out. Maybe they are using their tweets and selfies to share the message to a different audience, who might not watch CNN or follow international politics... but is this helping?
Traditionally—if the short history of Twitter has a "tradition"—hashtag activism has been a vehicle to give voice to the voiceless. The skeptic in me worries when powerful people tweet their support. Sure, it's great publicity, but those selfies and 140-character messages don't give a lot of detail for the public to be able hold those leaders accountable. Granted, earlier this week Secretary of State John Kerry offered aid, which was accepted by Nigerian President Jonathan Goodluck, but it's still unclear exactly how to find those missing girls, who Boko Haram leaders threaten to sell into forced marriages or sex slavery.
What do you think about First Lady Michelle Obama's #BringBackOurGirls tweet? Let's talk about it in the comments.
News and Politics Editor Grace Hwang Lynch blogs about raising an Asian mixed-race family at HapaMama.