#BringBackOurGirls! And Awareness In The Age Of New Media, By Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú
#BringBackOurGirls! A hashtag created by a concerned lawyer changed it all. It gave hapless Nigerians a breakthrough moment to reach millions all over the world. To tell the story of terror, inept leadership and the threat of a failing state with a humongous population that is capable of bringing untold humanitarian disaster to the West African subregion.
Never in the history of mankind has it been so easy, fast and inexpensive for people to come together; to inform, share, work or take public action until the age of social networks. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other appendages of New Media are breaking down geographic barriers, reducing isolation, and facilitating group action in profound ways to change the world. Like many other things except stealing, the rulers of this fiefdom called Nigeria did not envisage the far reaching impact of social media on its citizens. Certainly the illiterate, power drunk and truculently acerbic wife of the president underestimated its reach.
Before now, the ability to report, photograph, record events and publish such material to all have resided in the hands of journalists by convention and the law. How things have changed! News collection, transmission and publication has undergone massive fundamental changes in the age of social media where the subsisting values of immediacy and speed dominates. Social media is governed by the rule of NOW based on publish and filter instead of the old paradigm of filter and publish. It has created a level playing field where news gathering has become the vocation of amateurs with serious threat of extinction facing traditional media based on the appetite and attention span of the digital generation. Welcome to the age of radical free where the tools of production is in the hands of hobbyists and anyone passionate enough to stand for something and they do it for free for the most part.
With the emergence of blogs, Facebook and Twitter and YouTube, many people can transmit data, text, photos, and video to a worldwide audience at no cost rendering the tools of information and journalism ubiquitous.
With the aid of smart phones and improved telephony, the burgeoning Nigerian youths and middle age middle class can engage in easy and inexpensive online interactions. Social media has become an all important reference point like the village square of old, and are replacing traditional sources of learning, information and influence. Mainstream Old Media with a history of deference to power are losing social and political influence with substantial erosion of readership.
This context of news anywhere, anytime has given the people a lot to cheer about the democratization of the media. Despite the positives, there is also a lot to be concerned about. given the loss of the traditional professional filter. In the case of the Girls of Chibok; the social networks gave Nigerians the level playing field to draw attention to the abductions, get millions to see, read and share the story, and get institutions and governments around the world to pressure the Nigerian government to act. The argument that hashtag activism on the missing girls is thin and fleetingly momentous may be valid. Without it, how would we have sent the message to Nigeria’s insufferable incompetents that we can get the world to beam its searchlights on their nefarious trades and tyrannical indifference? How would we have served them notice that we can alter the equations by our Likes, tweets, retweets, photographs and video?
The spontaneity of the movement to save the girls caught the Abuja goons napping but we are happy it did, even if half of the two million tweets came from the United States alone. With such a poignant hashtag, Nigerians touched the hearts and minds of well-meaning people around the world, galvanized attention, spurred global outrage, generated grassroots social media campaign and the world demanded action on a united anti-terror platform in solidarity with the long suffering Nigerian people using the now ubiquitous #BringBackOurGirls.
With a simple hashtag, no one can deny the struggles of Nigerians living in the North East anymore. The dangers faced by those threatened by Boko Haram, the group’s atrocities, and of the determination of women and girls to learn and lead equal lives in a society beset by institutionalized misogyny and religious extremism. The movement occasioned by the abductions thrived on sharing and simplicity but the situation on ground in Nigeria is awfully complex. The lives of young girls are at stake, the owners of Nigeria are in a conspiracy to shield the sponsors of strife because they all have fallen short one way or another, the country is heavily polarized along religious and ethnic lines, the nation is near bankrupt and nothing is working.
#BringBackOurGirls is not just about the hashtag. It is about people standing their ground against evil. It is about the social and political relevance of seeing ordinary and powerful people like First Lady of The United States holding #BringBackOurGirls on pieces of paper in solidarity with the voiceless parents of Chibok. The genie is out of the bottle. Never again shall we fold our hands without telling our story in whatever way we can using whatever platform we find. We will continue to draw attention to the atrocities of terror groups, kleptomaniacs in government and engage in grassroots activism on social networks to appeal to the shared sense of humanity in our compatriots the world over. We will keep the dialogue going over Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and blogs. We will ratchet the pressure on our government to protect the lives and property of the governed and guarantee them a better quality of life. That is our commitment, it is no longer business as usual.