By the number of retweets they shall be known


We got into a lively discussion last night about David Cameron on the Andrew Marr show supporting the #BringBackOurGirls Twitter campaign.

Criticism of the campaign has centred on the general inability of a tweet to rescue a kidnap victim

It is easy to scoff at the vapid shallowness of celebrity tweeting

Pictures of a sad looking Michelle Obama (#sadface) and an earnest looking Sean Penn telling us that real men don’t buy girls (#ohreally) created a strong response, for and against.

Of course a Twitter campaign is not effective as a Squadron of underwater knife fighters but awareness and influence, not direct action, was, and is the goal of the campaign.

It is not aimed at Boko Haram (literal translation of their name is Western Education is Sinful) so unfriending them or a harsh tweeting is probably not going to change their mind.

What many have pointed though out is three simple issues;

First, this has been going on for years, predictably, Boko Haram have been killing in the name of the religion of peace for some time and yet no one seemed to take any notice. When 42 children were burned alive in July 2013 at a school in Yobo there were no hash tags for them.

Second, the situation is incredibly complex, thinking that a Twitter campaign is going to solve it is simply naive, remember Kony 2012, wonder how that is going? Except it is all very different, we understand social media better now. The simple truth remains, social media hype went nowhere but at least everyone felt better, at least they had done something. The situation in Nigeria has much more depth than the simple minded good v evil narrative that the campaign portrays.

Finally, a couple of hundred young girls being kidnapped and sold into slavery might look unusual but the scale of slavery across the world is staggering. Pop over to the Anti Slavery International website for a read about the real state modern day slavery slavery situation.

At least unlike the Kony thing, this one originated in Africa, from a Nigerian woman named Hadiza Bala Usman

It is not the depressingly familiar Western guilt industry in full flow, tweeting ones solidarity whilst sipping a latte.

I also get the feeling that the Nigerian government acted because Boko Haram carried out several attacks in the capital, Abuja but there can be no doubt the grass roots nature of this has had some impact.

Topsy is a web engagement analytics company that allows searches on hash tags (click the image to view)


As can be seen, the spike is well and truly over.

Which brings me back to my main point, the bandwagon jumping opportunism and general shallowness of David Cameron, running around looking as if he is #doingsomething.

As the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, he should be thinking about gravitas, borne of solidity and principle.

Instead, we have him retweeting.

Despite me being apparently too old to understand Twitter an Advanced Search allows one to look at specific instances of terms or hash tags (including retweets) for a single user.

I had a look at Barack Obama’s Twitter feed, no mention of it. Plenty of other hash tags like #RaisetheWage, #PeopeOverPolitics and #WhatRepealMeans.

France, President Hollande, no

Angela Merkel, Germany, no

Vladimir Putin (really!), no

Dilma Rousseff, Brazil, no

I also had a look at a load of other leaders, drawing a blank each time.

Surely President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria


Hang on, one last try

And of course DFiD and Justine Greening managed a retweet

Nigeria has a population of 170 odd million, Topsy tells us that #BringBackOurGirls has been tweeted just under 3.5 million times and from a peak of 440 thousand on May 10th is now at roughly 40 thousand per day and declining.

This single tweet generated about the same number as the hashtag campaign so far

The hype is over, celebs have moved on, the children are sill kidnapped and Boko Haram are still murderous savages.

So, the point is not about using modern social media to effect change, to use geo-referenced communications or pattern analysis to track down the girls or even about crusty old reactionaries moaning about the kids of today.

Nigeria is a complex situation, African Islamic terrorism is a really complex situation

Superficial tweeting by the Prime Minister of a member of the Security Council and leading world nation is, frankly, embarrassing.

If we want to help, say so, but do it in a way that befits the office and think about the long term because one thing we can all be sure of, when the girls are found and the celebrity circus packed up, Boko Haram will continue on their merry murderous way.



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