Adapted from a Facebook status update. With apologies to my FB friends who have to put up with prolonged status rants. I don’t put up photos of babies or food or link to Candy Crush Saga, but this is my one Social Media foible.
Linda Raftree (@meowtree) posted this excellent article from journalist Jina Moore (@itsjina) on why it may cause more harm than good to post the names of the schoolgirls kidnapped last month by Boko Haram militants in Nigeria. It is an excellent piece and worth reading. Jina is one of the most switched-on grass-roots writers covering Africa, and her take is invariably focused first on the wellbeing of the people she covers.
But in the political fray of finger-pointing, and the international frenzy of “raising awareness,” no one seemed to have noticed perhaps the most important part the plea from the spokesman of the governor whose state the girls were kidnapped from:
“Our fear,” Gusau said in his April 30 statement, is that “to reveal names that would reveal religion and family backgrounds … could at the end, compromise the safety of these girls.” He also pointed out that publicizing the girls’ names could make it easier for Boko Haram to identify their parents and demand ransom, and he feared listing the names could undermine the rescue operation or simply become sensational.
And he was afraid that if any of the named girls managed to escape, or if Nigeria managed to rescue them, a public list would mark them for life.
“Abductions of girls are sometimes interpreted to mean automatic rape, [and] where the identity of these are revealed, they could be stigmatized even after being rescued,” he said.
It’s worth reflecting on the extent to which social media campaigns can actually be catalysts for good outcomes, versus the potential for achieving nothing- or worse, harm.
The issue with Boko Haram and the security crisis in northern Nigeria (of which the kidnapping of these girls is just one outrageous symptom) is a highly complex political-security issue ingrained in a largely dysfunctional governance breakdown. The solutions, far from requiring a hashtag or ‘public awareness’, are long-term, and require careful, thought-through international interventions over a period of many years.
We like to call for quick-fix solutions (“Send in US Special Forces to rescue the girls/kill Joseph Kony, etc.”) without necessarily understanding the complexity underlying such a request that makes it almost impossible to begin with- never mind the potential of creating more damage, rather than less, to the situation. The desire for these responses comes from a good place- we care, and we want to see the suffering of innocents end- but the reality of the world we work in makes these fantasies without an actionable reality behind them.
If we’re serious about wanting to see the world become a better place, we too have to take a long-term focus. It’s much harder, and needs to become a structural part of our lives. It requires patience, and the making peace with the uncomfortable reality that we alone are probably not able to actually alter this particular crisis right now. But that doesn’t mean we’re powerless or cannot make a difference. We just need to think differently. How do our spending habits impact down the line to matters of poverty, inequality and justice (probably our single biggest potential to influence the world, given its dependence on money)? Do we vote for the party most focused on helping solve problems of global inequity- or the one most likely to give our already-well-lined pockets another tax-break? Do we lobby our representatives to push through justice-focused legislation? Do we actively seek out relevant stories about global injustice and take time to understand them and the action required to solve them, rather than waiting for a hashtag to tell us what to get outraged about
This thought-steam brought to you courtesy of caffeine, and a burgeoning frustration with the fallibility of slacktivism.