However trivial hashtags can feel, their most basic function is as a tool for focusing attention. Crucially, they’re also free and open to anyone to use. So desperate Nigerian parents, without extraordinary power or resources can draw the kind of attention that leads to real pressure and real power.
That feels a little bit world-changing. And activists who started the hashtag have gotten out of it exactly what they’d hoped for. In the space of a week, they made it impossible for President Jonathan to continue chalking up their daughters’ abduction as the latest Boko Haram atrocity to be grimly accepted and eventually forgotten.
It’s not everything, but it’s a start. And the world is now talking about 276 stolen girls in Nigeria when before it wasn’t talking about them at all.
–Laura Olin, Time, May 9, 2014
If you ask why it matters who gets credit for spearheading that hashtag movement, I don’t think I can explain it more plainly than Olin just did in her piece published today on the Time website. Many people have been dismissive about the furor about Ramaa Mosley and the American media’s attempt to co-opt the movement, stating that the issue of ownership of the movement is unimportant to the ultimate goal of finding the 276 missing schoolgirls.
Here’s the thing: I agree that the hashtag movement in and of itself isn’t going to find those girls, and that ultimately people on this side of the Atlantic arguing about this doesn’t do much to bring about that result. That’s fine.
However, when we’re claiming that ownership of it isn’t important, we’re basically saying it doesn’t matter that Nigerians—desperate to call attention to the fact that a mass kidnapping happened and nobody in government or the international community seemed to respond to it—started this as a method to get their government and the international community to respond. Continue reading