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)

BringBackOurGirls

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

Nope.

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.

 

 

40 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
tweckyspat
May 20, 2014 8:48 am

ditto the use of emoticons. I am waiting for the next PMQs starting with the “regret to announce to the house the death of Cpl Steve ” Swampy” Gruntfuttock killed on ops in Nowherikraine. Sad Face #realdowner…..”

The analytics stuff is cool but of course doesn’t reflect the varying degrees of access to technology. Colleagues for example warn of the disproportionate access to media and social media enjoyed by liberal elites and the NGOcracy over Ukraine. Lower level tech “crowdsourcing” has had some success eg Ushahidi violence reporting after Kenyan elections 2008 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ushahidi but apart from that I am unclear whether this really represents a game changer…

The Other Chris
May 20, 2014 8:57 am

Counter argument (not an opinion) for debate purposes:

Does use of social media assist in generating a mandate to take other action(s)?

TED
TED
May 20, 2014 9:10 am

Just posted something in “The Future” that may well be better here…

Doh

The Other Chris
May 20, 2014 9:24 am

Feel free to re-post it here :)

Mental Crumble
Mental Crumble
May 20, 2014 9:31 am

one of your best

TED
TED
May 20, 2014 10:12 am

Not sure wether TOC is being sarcastic so:

Social media really gets my blood up. Great loads of people have signed up to a fracking twitter campaign but how many are ready to jump in the back of armoured vehicles and #bringbackthegirls. The answer is naff all of them. Its just to easy to hit your like button or whatever the hell it is on twitter. So when people scroll down theyre feed and stop cooing at that lovely kitty they click a button to ‘show their support.’

The fact that governments, the only people who can really change this situation just click retweet show they are just as bone idle as the general populace.

The next publicity article I want to read from the MoD will declare that: 10 helicopters (preferably puma), 4 typhoon and some RPAS have deployed to an airfield in Nigeria along with a large number of paras backed up by associated C130.

Stop faffing around with twitter and actually do something.

No… ok now watch this video of a budgie on a skateboard

The Other Chris
May 20, 2014 10:23 am

I wasn’t being sarcastic! Is that how I come across most times? Feeling a little self-conscious now :s

Alex
Alex
May 20, 2014 10:37 am

Boko Haram evidently does monitor the Internet, and this whole thing kicked off when they posted a video on YouTube seeking attention. As we well know, the US and allies have a lot of assets devoted to scooping up Internet traffic, and in Nigeria it’s likely to be mobile and therefore both location-specific and available for tactical intercept. If you were really clever, you might think that if you troll the shit out of them, they might slip up with their OPSEC?

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
May 20, 2014 10:49 am

@Alex

Do not be daft, that lacks Gravitas. Far better to make solemn speeches from the dispatch box and deploy some troops to sit around an airfield for a few months hoping something breaks.
Then bring them home and say, we responded with good old UK spirit and dignity.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
May 20, 2014 11:10 am

@TD

Actually much to my surprise you do not advocate a solution at all, beyond Gravitas and the comment about troops at an airfield was not directed at you.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
May 20, 2014 11:17 am

@TD

“Tweeting by the PM is probably the leadt useful of them”

In your opinion but it is your site and you will probably just write another post telling us all your opinion so I will leave it there.

Tom
Tom
May 20, 2014 11:33 am

TD – Its all in the same vain as blasting Jamie Carr for his tax dodge and then refusing to do the same to Barlow. Like Blair before him he’s too interested in being a celebrity and being liked.

DavidNiven
DavidNiven
May 20, 2014 11:38 am

To be honest the tweeting thing does not bother me that much, but should not the Prime Minister be tweeting AND making statements from the dispatch box, coupled with all the other statesman like stuff?

Did he hash tag Libya/Syria?

The Other Chris
May 20, 2014 11:40 am

Anecdotal evidence:

I’ve heard those in their late-teens/early-twenties talking about Boko Haram and actually looking at maps for once. One 22 year old sat not very far from me asked an ex-RMC how would you even go about finding 200+ schoolgirls in all that area of space.

Is that a benefit to engaging in Social Media? Is it how you get to connect and engage with those leaving education? Will some of those being engaged take action?

EDIT: In his defence he says he also asked an ex-National Guardswoman from another department last week as well. Given he thought “Al Catraz” was Mexican Drug Lord last month I consider it an improvement!

TED
TED
May 20, 2014 11:42 am

I’m not having troops sitting at airfields and I forgot Apache…

What I want is a mobile column on the tail of boko haram with a reserve at this lovely airport waiting to scramble into Pumas at the moment they fix the enemy and get in there and rip them a new one.

There will be a minimum of sitting on an airfield any fas attack the enemy try to launch will result in ten (or preferably more) pumas lifting in a lot of very angry powers and a motor convoy making its way at speed to cut off their retreat.

It shows real balls to click a button on a social media site so all the yobos identify with you!!! The sort of foundations this country is made on… :(

@TOC but thats just my problem. The youths dont give a rats ass about anything that doesn’t appear on social media. These things happen all the time but they are safe in theyre little social media bubble.

The Other Chris
May 20, 2014 12:18 pm

Was that not the same in the 70s/80s with two TV channels, daily/weekly rags and what we could share on a BBS?

Does Social Media allow those news stories to escape faster and further?

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
May 20, 2014 12:43 pm

@TED

You would be wondering around a huge area being a target. not on anyones tail at all. You would also simply attract more fighters to come and join Boko Haram as they now have juicy Western targets. Find them then get them if it is feasible, minimal footprint especially in terms of time.

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
May 20, 2014 1:08 pm

@TD

It could be argued that the biggest problem especially in our last two major interventions is that they had no “exit strategy” at all, never mind a time bound one.
We have offered help to get these girls back and if that has to take the shape eventually of direct military action then so be it but any further involvement should be strictly part of an Op monogram type program and not a “colonial” intervention force. that would be a magnet for radicals and bleed body bags. :(

Overseas
Overseas
May 20, 2014 8:49 pm

I was going to say something about not dumping the PM into the same boat as self-serving celebrities holding #showmesomeattention signs up, but then both rely on being in the public arena to sell their respective wears, so I won’t.

The real question in the grand scheme of things this is but a small incident and should be dealt with quickly, quietly and with the minimum of fuss. Remember terrorists/thugs/whatever want to make a name for themselves.

They’re also using social mediums to gather votes/like/upthumbs etc… (Hmm, so is that little difference between the celebs and them in the actual motives…I’ll leave that out there.)

Simon257
Simon257
May 20, 2014 9:43 pm

To be fair to the PM, wasn’t he ambushed over this by Christiane Amanpour, in the same way he was a couple of years ago on ITV, when Philip Schofield handed him a so called Tory Peadophile list:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2229808/Phillip-Schofield-ambushes-David-Cameron-Tory-paedophile-list-No-10-condemns-trial-Twitter.html

He couldn’t possible say no could he? So he might as well take advantage of the situation.

jedibeeftrix
jedibeeftrix
May 20, 2014 10:16 pm

was Cameron attempting to lobby… himself, when he held up that piece of cardboard?

this is what i object to, not the ‘art’ of using social media to create mass support for an otherwise ephemeral issue.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
May 20, 2014 11:32 pm

Being both Gloomy and Northern, there was much that Margaret Thatcher did with which I could readily disagree…but it was always absolutely, necessarily and gratifyingly clear that she understood herself to be the Prime Minister of HMG…and the elected political leader of a serious and ancient Nation that was then and is now clearly in the first division by all measures but physical size, natural resources and absolute numbers of people…of the two hundred odd Countries in the UN we are one of five permanent members of the Security Council, and in the top ten or at worst twenty by practically any measure.

When the PM of such a place is “ambushed” on live TV he doesn’t put up a silly little sign and obediently join the twitter-storm…he says “I have heard the decent people of this great and generous Country speak and in consequence I have agreed with our Commonwealth friends and partners in Nigeria to deploy intelligence assets, special forces and whatever else we might require – working alongside them and our American, Canadian and French Allies – to find the disgusting vermin who have perpetrated this wicked act, free their captives, and bring them to swift and summary justice”. Or better still he declines to say anything at all because he knows the “Rough men who do violence on our behalf” are already closing in and he can make a much more compelling comment in the morning once death has been dealt out to those fully deserving of it…

He does not behave like a vapid, shallow and very obviously fourth rate snake-oil salesman and lobby…as Jedibeefitrix quite reasonably asks…who exactly? People like us fix this stuff rather than adding to the general climate of utterly useless hand-wringing, for God’s sake!

A generally appalled, enraged, embarrassed and horrified Gloomy

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
May 20, 2014 11:45 pm

@GNB

“he says “I have heard the decent people of this great and generous Country speak and in consequence I have agreed with our Commonwealth friends and partners in Nigeria to deploy intelligence assets, special forces and whatever else we might require – working alongside them and our American, Canadian and French Allies – to find the disgusting vermin who have perpetrated this wicked act, free their captives, and bring them to swift and summary justice”. Or better still he declines to say anything at all because he knows the “Rough men who do violence on our behalf” are already closing in and he can make a much more compelling comment in the morning once death has been dealt out to those fully deserving of i”

What century do you live in? We have done all of that already though you may want to check on actual useful contributions from countries outside ourselves and the US. The 2 countries who also had the 1st lady and PM tweet no less.

“People like us fix this stuff ” You do? I admit to a lot of frustration here but more and more articles on here divide opinion among those that serve/have served and those that never have but live in a world where we should still have a stiff upper lip and an Empire.”

On a strategic level that is to be expected but it occurs more and more on a tactical level where those that actually know are restricted in their defence but I guess it brings adverts.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
May 21, 2014 12:21 am

@apats – If you prefer “Countries like this fix this stuff”…and where did I say anything about either empires, stiff upper lips, or solitary action?…do you genuinely feel no frisson of embarrassment about the utter lack of seriousness or dignity with which our political class conduct themselves…especially in the face of serious stuff, where innocent people might all to readily get killed?

Furthermore, I am not commenting on tactics at all – simply observing that serious Countries ought to make a serious contribution (or not) rather than arsing about on the twittersphere – and ought to have the dignity and gravitas to command some sort of respect

All Politicians are the Same
All Politicians are the Same
May 21, 2014 12:59 am

“do you genuinely feel no frisson of embarrassment about the utter lack of seriousness or dignity”

Not really I judge things on effectiveness not Daily Mail headlines.especially in the face of serious stuff, where innocent people might all to readily get killed?
Really like I have not dedicated my last 3 decades to preventing it rather than talking about it.

“that serious Countries ought to make a serious contribution (or not) rather than arsing about on the twittersphere – and ought to have the dignity and gravitas to command some sort of respect”

We have done both.

Simon257
Simon257
May 21, 2014 7:36 am

You have to love the irony over the situation in Nigeria. I have two friends, who are Uber Leftwingers. They both shared a post on Facebook, in which it demanded that the White House do something. I was so tempted to to tell they and the Liberal Left had finally got their wish, a White House that doesn’t want to get involved in the world problems!

But I know for a fact that it would start something unpleasant! So I left it at that.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
May 21, 2014 7:53 am

@apats – just for the record I loathe the Daily Mail and everything it stands for, and as a voter and taxpayer who is much more than normally involved in (local) political and community life, and reasonably well-read I feel entitled to comment on the kind of Country we are (or should be) or how my PM and the political class do or should conduct themselves…which is what I was doing…is that OK by you?

I might add that in a parliamentary democracy with professional armed forces under that supervision, the Defence Staff have a vote on what they need or what might be done in any particular set of circumstances; but the Armed Forces don’t decide where they are deployed…it’s Countries of a rather different sort where that happens…and asserting however modestly that “I can have a view on this because I serve, but you can’t” seems me to be an interesting interpretation of that particular principle…

GNB

jedibeeftrix
jedibeeftrix
May 21, 2014 8:18 am

@ APATS – “I admit to a lot of frustration here but more and more articles on here divide opinion among those that serve/have served and those that never have but live in a world where we should still have a stiff upper lip and an Empire.”

I likewise confess to some measure of frustration with the inverse; serving people here who have little concept of the political framework within which force can be employed.

I am speaking generally here, not specifically. I do not presume that you refer to me in the above, you might, and I do not apply the following to you.

Successful geopolitics requires the application of diplomatic and/or military force.

The successful application of force requires [both] capability [and] will.

I sometimes find that serving people translate this as; being outfitted with the queens bayonet (or other such equipment), and their personal and collective gumption to use it (eyeball to eyeball with the queen’s enemy).

Needless to say that is wrong, the latter is taken as a given. No, what we use the term “will” in the 21st century we are talking about public acceptance of elective warfare. Explicitly, we are talking about events that we could legitimately stand aside from, but choose not to for reasons of interest.

This is a fragile thing, largely lost to many european nations, and requires nurturing via the policies of where we might intervene, and the process on how we agree to do so.

To say that events will always come along, and we will always intervene when needed, is a fast track to a public/political consensus that our ‘adventuring’ days are over!

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
May 21, 2014 10:21 am

@Jedibeefitrix – I like you speak of general principles – and would be perfectly happy to see Sam Cam do the tweeting thing as the First Lady has – but I think it undignified and inappropriate for the PM to do it himself…in my view he should address himself to the matter at issue in a sober and reflective way even on daytime TV or whatever it was…the tweeting stuff could and indeed should be managed by others to build public support for a necessary act.

Not least because our current (potential) antagonists tend not to go in for cool post-modern politicians and seem to me to be inclined to treat those who do as a joke with neither balls nor backbone who can cheerfully be disregarded…and I think that is dangerous for all of us. I seem to recall that both Russia and China have dismissed us in much those terms in recent months, and I personally don’t think that is a good thing, and certainly not for reasons of Daily Nazi faux indignation and wounded pride…but because history has emphatically NOT ended, and we remain comparatively potent actors on it’s stage…and we have a responsibility not to be misunderstood in consequence.

Enough said on this I think; Pax?

GNB

jedibeeftrix
jedibeeftrix
May 21, 2014 10:26 am

@ GNB – “would be perfectly happy to see Sam Cam do the tweeting thing as the First Lady has – but I think it undignified and inappropriate for the PM to do it himself…in my view he should address himself to the matter at issue in a sober and reflective way even on daytime TV or whatever it was”

Agreed.

Quite happy to leave it there, tho i think your real disagreements were with others, not me.

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
May 21, 2014 10:31 am

@Jedi – they were – losing the thread of the thread at my end, in consequence of severe gout and masses of painkillers…

GNB

x
x
May 21, 2014 10:41 am

“would be perfectly happy to see Sam Cam do the tweeting thing as the First Lady has”

No.

TED
TED
May 21, 2014 6:26 pm

@GNB its ok, be gloomy no more! As long as everyone clicks that share (tweet) button the problem will simply disappear cause everyone wants it to. The fairies do it y’know… :D

And if your still gloomy I’m sure everyone around the world is currently sharing a picture of an adorable little kitty!!!
Naawwww isn’t it cute…

Gloomy Northern Boy
Gloomy Northern Boy
May 21, 2014 8:41 pm

@TED – Harrumph, bah, humbug and so on …

Grumpy Gloomy