Six months after #BringBackOurGirls, has hacktivism become just feel good narcissism?

Posted at 4:57 PM, Oct 14, 2014

Six months ago Tuesday, on April 14, the Islamist terror-and-crime syndicate Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls from a school in Chibok, Nigeria. Some of the girls were released, some escaped. More than 200 remain in captivity – details, conditions, location are all unknown.

The anniversary is going almost unnoticed in the American news world.

This raises interesting questions about social media activism, aka “hacktivism.”  Detractors call it “slacktivism.” Their case grows stronger.

The Twitter rallying cry for the kidnapped girls was #BringBackOurGirls. It was the global cause celebre for the proverbial 15 minutes back in the spring. The first lady was among the hacktivists.

But the hash tag crusade has petered out. For example, this Google Trend chart shows how often #BringBackOurGirls has been searched for this year:

Basically, the global surge for #BringBackOurGirls was a one week splurge. Even six-month anniversary didn’t generate much Twitter activity according to the social media analytics service, Topsy:


Hacktivism’s many detractors say it is merely an exercise in political narcissism: send a tweet, feel like you’ve done something virtuous and helpful, return to your previously scheduled programming.

Is there anything really wrong with that? Surely the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, brief and hyped though it was, did a bit of good. I can’t imagine that it perpetrated any actual harm. But when hacktivism is coupled with sanctimony, it is a difficult brew to swallow.

The plight of the Chibok girls did garner greater attention in Britain on the six-month anniversary.  A group of high muckety-mucks published an open letter in several newspapers calling for the world to get its act together. The letter also noted that Boko Haram seems to have developed working ties with ISIS:

According to intelligence agencies, Abubakar Shekau, the group’s leader, has already secured the backing of Isis who are sharing intelligence and giving strategic advice and guidance. Emboldened by the success of Isis and equipped with modern small arms, heavy artillery and armoured vehicles, Boko Haram now operates like a conventional army, occupying towns and villages across the Northeast of Nigeria.

If you’re interested in more, the Newshour program on the BBC World Service has a very good set of updates.