How to be a Good Hashtag Activist for #BringBackOurGirls

The hashtag worked, sort of.

On April 14th, over 200 girls were kidnapped from their school in Northern Nigeria. On April 16th, I first mentioned this on UN Dispatch in the context of Boko Haram’s continued attacks on schools in the region. But it was not until May 2nd when the mainstream media started picking up this story. This is largely due to the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. Since then, there has been a flurry of activity, action and media attention.

To the extent that the hashtag was intended to draw attention to the kidnapped girls, it undoubtedly has been a success. However, the extent that this newfound interest in Boko Haram and Nigeria can be leveraged toward thoughtful and long term solutions to the insurgency is still very much in question.

With that ultimate goal in mind, here are three helpful suggestions to those who have become newly inspired by #BringBackOurGirls.

1)  Don’t be presumptuous. Don’t presume, like Bill Kristol, that sending in the marines is a good idea. And don’t presume that posting the names of the victims somehow shows solidarity with the cause.

2) D0 understand the context. Boko Haram did not arise out of the ether.  You can listen to my podcast about Boko Haram. Read this report by the International Crisis Group which details specific steps the Nigerian government and international community can take to mitigate this crisis and successfully take the wind out of the sails of this insurgency.

3)  Any successes from this activism will be short lived unless you press for systemic changes that strengthen the institutions of governance that help prevent the rise of armed insurgency in the first place. #StrengthenInstitutionsofGovernance doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as #BrinkBackOurGirls but the fact is, the inability to deliver healthcare, security, education, and other basic services fuels the instability that gives rise to militant groups like Boko Haram. There are a number of Nigerian civil society groups that are active in this space. Make the effort to find out what they are doing and how you can help.