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2014 Hashtags: #BringBackOurGirls Made Nigerian Schoolgirls All Of 'Ours'


It was April 13, the middle of the night, when armed gunmen rustled nearly 300 Nigerian girls from their boarding school beds, ushered them onto trucks and drove away. Weeks later, people around the world were shouting for their release.


CORNISH: There were protests in Lagos, New York, London.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Because of grassroots campaigning. Because weeks ago, people were on Twitter. Because of that action, we will see our girls returned.


CORNISH: The campaign, #bringbackourgirls, actually took off on Twitter. This week we're looking at a few of the year's big hashtags, Twitter slogans that started a movement or a conversation. One of the people who got this hashtag going was a former governor minister, Oby Ezekwesili. Shortly after the girls were kidnapped, she gave a speech.

OBY EZEKWESILI: I asked the audience to please stand and to declare solidarity with the Chibok girls and to call out to our federal government, which at that time hadn't said a word, that they must rescue the girls. And so I said they must bring back our daughters.

CORNISH: Bring back our daughters quickly morphed into hashtag...

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: #bringbackourgirls.

CORNISH: And this is the moment when real-world activism and armchair activism collide.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: @espisaurusrex (ph) - Girls have a right to education, too. They're not slaves.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: @rhonadookran - Make a resounding rising noise.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: @sikamikanic0_ - It's horrifying that this kind of cruelty still exists.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: @Nina_aristea - An attack on education is an attack on the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: @PAPATHEBAND - I wish there were more to do besides writing.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: @watermiz - Malala Yousafzai pleads for Nigerian abducted girls.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: @GlobalGrindNews - Michelle Obama joins the movement #bringbackourgirls.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5: @jeanjeangarrod - Angelina Jolie tries to #bringbackourgirls.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: @GD360 - P. Diddy joins protest over abducted schoolgirls.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: @bondgrounded - Kim Kardashian and Nicky Minaj also lend voices to #bringbackourgirls awareness.

CORNISH: Oby Ezekwesili?


CORNISH: There were also tweeters who used the hashtag to raise angry questions.


CORNISH: One complaint was that Boko Haram - the terrorist group that kidnapped the girls - had been terrorizing Nigeria for years, continues to do so. So, you know, what to make of the fact that everybody starts to care when there's this kind of very public and celebrity-embraced cause?

EZEKWESILI: I'm not sure that that is right. People get into very intellectual conversation as to whether the hashtag should've been used at all, or what value it has brought to this. You know? Because I know the parents, I've been in touch with some of the parents whose children are with (unintelligible), I don't - I'm unable to dispassionately get into this intellectual debate on the hashtag.

CORNISH: I don't think that people are criticizing activists such as yourself and advocates who are doing the work of protesting, but people do criticize that some social media advocacy comes off as shallow - that people just kind of click or re-tweet and walk away.

EZEKWESILI: You're correct on that. People actually, you know, just sort of say, oh by the way, what happened to the #bringbackourgirls campaign? And some of the people asking that question may have been, but of those that re-tweeted, as you said, so I do agree with you on that. The only thing that I don't agree is, the social media empowers you with the kind of information that would ordinarily not be available to you. Frankly speaking, how would you have known that this number of girls were abducted so quickly as you did, were it not for social media? You know, it would've taken time for traditional news to get to the nooks and crannies of the United States. So social media has got its benefit, but it's not an end in of itself.

CORNISH: What the hashtag did do was bring a lot of international attention to this, and how do you sustain interest especially as that spotlight inevitably moves elsewhere?

EZEKWESILI: But you know what? We are not moving on. The world may have moved on - and wrongly so - but we who have started this matter of the focus on the girls have not moved on. I shall be going to our sit-out where we normally meet, at the Unity Park here in Abuja, every day. There is people at that park standing with the Chibok girls.

CORNISH: If the girls, as you talked about, remain unaccounted for, I mean, what do you think the legacy of this campaign will be? People seem to think that by participating in it, even in a cursory way online, that they would somehow actually help bring these girls back, and that hasn't happened.

EZEKWESILI: Well, what the social media does is to call the attention of those who have the power to act. I don't really understand why people dump on those who use their Twitter page, their Facebook. Recall that the major challenge had to do with our government not even acknowledging that these girls had been abducted. And the reason that you do advocacy is because you are not the one with the power and money, the authority to be able to act. Therefore you advocate so that those who should be able to act would hear you.

CORNISH: Oby Ezekwesili, thank you so much for speaking with us.

EZEKWESILI: Thank you very much.

CORNISH: Oby Ezekwesili of the Open Society Foundation in Abuja. As of today, more than 200 of the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls are unaccounted for. And the terrorist group Boko Haram continues to kill and kidnap women and children in northern Nigeria.

On Friday we have our final conversation about activism on Twitter. We talk about the not-so-subtle humor of the hashtag #muslimapologies.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #6: So I kind of just jokingly said, you know, I'm Muslim and I'm sorry for everything that's happened in the past, present and future. And so other Muslims jumped in on it and I guess it really resonated.

CORNISH: That's Friday here on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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