I know that yesterday I posted about my frustrated relationship with social media, but I thought it worth sharing that two things occurred this morning shining a light on how powerful the collective voices of individuals can be.
This particular article I’m writing here might not flow, might not have all the moving pieces to seem well written. I’m still recovering from a flu and my head aches and feels foggy. Still, I want to say these things.
First, an article on Mashable, Bring Back Our Girls: Why The World Is Finally Talking About Nigeria’s Kidnapped Students, popped up in my Facebook feed.
The girls were kidnapped from their schools over three weeks ago. The trail, which could have perhaps been followed if immediate action was taken, is cold. Boko Haram has claimed to have sold the girls as “wives,” a misnomer if ever there was one, into slavery to other militants.
And the media, for the most part, has remained largely silent. Coverage of the missing girls has been dwarfed by the other major stories of late — the South Korean ferry, the racist NBA owner and the missing Malaysia Airlines plane.
“Maybe if the more than 200 Nigerian girls abducted from their school weeks ago were on a ferry in Korea, a jet liner in the Indian Ocean, in the owner’s box at a Clippers basketball game, or were white, the world would pay more attention,” Boing Boing blogger Xeni Jardin said, echoing the thoughts of many.
“If it had happened anywhere else, this would be the world’s biggest story,” said CNN’s Frida Ghitis.
But now, three weeks later, a hashtag associated with their disappearance has been tweeted nearly 1 million times.
I’ve been a part of that million, following the story since it’s beginnings. I rarely go to major news outlets for actual news. I scroll Twitter each morning and take note of the stories to follow. Twitter is filled with citizen activists who know what to pay attention to, and they do it well.
I believe major media outlets didn’t pay attention to this story because it is Africa. Because race. Because gender. Because poverty. Because there seems to be a priority list for all the horrific stories that could be reported on at any given moment. And there are a lot of them. As I mentioned yesterday, social media can mean feeling covered in badness, over-empathizing, taking in too much about things that it seems impossible to do much about.
But millions of Twitter users did indeed do what they could, which was hashtag the hell out the situation. Finally, there has been “breaking news” on CNN, though for the girls that will be cold comfort. They’ve been kidnapped, assaulted, raped, and sold all while the powers of the modern world did nothing. All while millions of individuals in the world screamed through the internet, through links and posts, through calls to their representatives and through petitions.
It took constant pressure to make their plight rise up the priority ranks. Social media played a huge role in doing just that, getting the attention to push the response up the chain. It is shameful that the world powers, the media, the news channels waited so long to respond to the cries of the Nigerian parents. I’m glad people have called and called and called for attention to be paid. In this case, it was a large group of students, women, and the group kidnapping them was clearly and adamantly against western education, and focused on Jihad. If it had been only a few girls in Sweden, though…
Meanwhile, I’ll note (not as a derail, but as a heartbreaking reality that something truly toxic is happening longterm) that these girls being captured isn’t something new per se. Girls around the world (yes, the US) are trafficked for labor. Hundreds of thousands of children around the world get captured to be soldiers, economic labor, drug mules, and more. I see very little about that on mainstream news, and watch as activists write tirelessly only to be ignored.
Perhaps there are just too many symptoms manifesting to truly pay attention to and treat the actual illness. My mind feels like it will break wide open sometimes. We want all these things all these material goods and a way of life that we’ve grown up with. On whose backs has that life been built? What is the relationship to child soldiers in Africa and how I live here? My out of season strawberries and children working in fields? I’m not sure how we all aren’t thinking about this.
This one news event should have hit major outlets immediately. AND the bigger and more toxic longer term problem should be on the news ALL the time until we get our shit straightened out. It will likely take more than hashtags to make that change.
The other thing that I saw today, and it seems silly even to tie this together with the previous topic, was a post by a friend. Long story short, she’d had a voucher for airfare due to delays on the airlines’ part, but due to extreme illness wasn’t able to use it and booked a ticket for her mother within the time frame allotted. Her mother became ill and she wanted to extend the ticket past the original deadline to help her mother travel later. The airline balked of course, until she threatened to take it to Twitter and Facebook. Suddenly, no problem.
Why can’t systems and corporations just do the right thing to begin with? I suppose because we built the systems that way and our western system rewards corporations that protect their financial bottom line over anything else. And maybe that’s it. Maybe it’s related to power and dominance just hating bad public relations? Better to spare $300 in a voucher rather than lose $10,000 over a Twitter snafu?
Better to get some kids on the news than to really deal with changing an entire world view about economic labor and bodies and how we use people (perhaps we always have) to further empires built of people by people on the bodies of people.
I don’t have an answer for it, I just know that the more eyes on the systems and the freer we are to call the systems out, change the systems, keep actual checks and balances in place the better we are. Or should be.
And I know that no matter how it hurts, we have to keep our eyes open to see what’s really going on and see the systems for what they are. The girls need to come home, not just for them, their families but for all of us to say No More Of This Anywhere.
God knows what happened to the men early on who took the girls. Or to the leaders who took the boys and raised them up to be able to take those girls. Or to us who change the channel when things get too hard to watch, who need to figure out our priority of things to respond to in a world that is catching fire, or may always have been burning, I’m not sure.
I don’t have a damn hashtag for that. There is power in social media, I just hope we can figure out how to truly use it.