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Hashtags and Scorn

Look, I agree that the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls will not, in fact, lead to said girls being brought back (see a discussion of this by Megan MacKenzie at The Duck of Minvera). But, I am not sure why it is necessary to be either a jerk about it, a grump about it, or a mocker over it.

At worst a hashtag like this is a small attempt to express an opinion and, at best, a means of bringing attention to a story (indeed, I expect a lot of people originally heard of the plight of the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram because of this hashtag story).

Clearly no one thinks this hashtag is going to result in the girls being released, so the scorn strikes me as unnecessary.

But, such is politics.

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor and Chair of Political Science at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. He is the author of Voting Amid Violence: Electoral Democracy in Colombia and is currently working on a comparative study of the US to 29 other democracies. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging at PoliBlog since 2003. Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Scott O says:

    a jerk about it, a grump about it, or a mocker

    That’s 90% of their act. You want to take away their livelihoods?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 0

  2. Hal_10000 says:

    My problem with this particular hashtagivism was that they didn’t have any actual ideas for how to bring the girls back, weren’t supporting any particular policy and most of them knew very little about the situation. Bringbackourgirls was somewhat useful in Nigeria itself as a way for locals to organize and pressure their government. But for Americans, this was a fashion statement that they cared, not an actual attempt to generate action.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 4

  3. Hal_10000 says:

    (That’s not to say that these critics aren’t full of it. I’m sure the next time a conservative cause like RepealObamacare comes up, they’ll be hashtagivising like crazy. I’m reminded of the ubiquitous ribbons of the 80′s and 90′s. A lot of conservatives blasted the AIDS ribbons because they didn’t actually do anything to fight AIDS. But they didn’t feel that way about yellow ribbons during the hostage crisis.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  4. Stonetools says:

    It’s a way to raise awareness and to keep the issue in the news, as opposed to doing absolutely nothing at all, which is what the critics apparently would prefer to do.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 0

  5. John Peabody says:

    I’m mostly bothered by the trivialzation of the issue…making the current event no more imporatant than Team Edward or I’m With Coco.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  6. @Hal_10000: I don’t disagree in general. I just find the dripping scorn of it all off-putting (and then you get the stuff like the Steyn link above where he is certain that the problem can be solved by military force, which is yet another problem).

    @John Peabody: This is fair. Although I do think it has at least brought attention to an international story (which is hard to do in the US media environment).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  7. Dave Schuler says:

    I’m in general agreement with this:

    Bringbackourgirls was somewhat useful in Nigeria itself as a way for locals to organize and pressure their government. But for Americans, this was a fashion statement that they cared, not an actual attempt to generate action.

    The reservations I have are that a) celebrity support shouldn’t become about the celebrities and b) support by American officials or semi-officials shouldn’t be taken as official American support.

    In particular I don’t think that anyone should seriously contend that there is an American military solution to the situation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  8. KM says:

    In a shallow world, you do what it takes to get the attention you need. Do anyone really thinks that the actual act of making a commercial will save starving children in Africa? That reporting on Ukraine will stop the violence? No – what it does is pull someone else’s consciousness (and perhaps conscience) to the matter at hand in the hopes that the attention will spur physical action (donations, time, political pressure…). Shouting to the ether in hopes of help is nothing new.

    What is new is the frankly disgusting talking point about “useless” this is. They pretend they are trying to be “practical” about this when in reality what most people see is a blatant ugly partisan act on a good-faith, good-will effort to help innocent children. People are appalled by what is a completely negative for no real reason attack, hatred for hatred’s sake.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 2

  9. junkbox says:

    “Military force is the problem”

    Please that is the problem… the lack of force. The problem is that the heads of state (UK) or perceived heads of state (Obama) Shouldn’t be lowering them selves to hashtag activism. They should be rolling into the jungle with the head crackers. Granted the uk should probably use their head crackers since Nigerians are Commonwealth citizens. But either way holding up a sign instead of holding up the severed head of the leader Boko Haram does nothing. So until that happens they are free to roam the countryside and rape and kill at will.

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  10. Tillman says:

    Didn’t this come up with #Kony2012 as well? Haven’t we already gone through this?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. JWH says:

    Those kids better keep their hashtag off my lawn!!!! #IveGotAHose

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0

  12. JWH says:

    When I was your age, we didn’t have fancy “hashtags.” We had to send messages the old fashioned way! #MorseCodeFTW

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  13. bill says:

    it’s not that anyone wants the girls to die or be sold , it’s just the complete lameness of trying to look like you give a damn about something you’re not going to (or can’t) do anything about. some people need to feel better about themselves and this is their outlet, good for them- they need lives, not hysterics.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 7

  14. aFloridian says:

    @Tillman:

    Yes, I thought of the same thing. As someone who has followed African politics/wars/social issues for a long time (albeit never tried to help in any way) it is always with mixed feelings that I watch a social media campaign like this.

    On the one hand, it might be argued that The People, generally indolent and unaware, when awoken to a human rights issue like this, and being both conscientious and unable to do anything meaningful, vent their well-meaning intentions through a hashtag campaign, facebook posts, etc.. Under that view, they really do care, but no one ever bothers to put these issues directly under their noses, but when someone does it hits their consciences.

    On the other hand, situations like this (ok, not exactly like this, which is why this story is getting attention) are all too common in Africa. From fighting in the Central African Republic, South Sudan et al, to West African dictatorships, to human rights concerns in Zimbabwe, Uganda, and a host of others, most of the time Americans and their media are more than willing to ignore the endless raping and killing that occurs on the African continent.

    I’m not sure why – if it is because most of these stories involve black people killing other black people thousands of miles away, or because most everyone involved is poor, or perhaps we even see a continent roiled in conflict and death for over a century and think “What else is new? It’s their own faults” but Americans just don’t identify, or care about, human stories coming out of Africa the same way they do about Turkey, Ukraine, and even India.

    So from that perspective, I see campaigns like this as a good thing, because they might serve as an impetus for more people to actually get involved in ways that matter, or at least become knowledgeable about what is going on. Then again, I expect this situation, if not resolved soon, will end just like the Kony campaign did. Those who cared before will still care, but the millions of Americans who couldn’t tell you the difference between South Africa and South Sudan will soon forget and go watch a summer blockbuster in the air conditioning.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  15. Matt Bernius says:

    @Hal_10000:

    Bringbackourgirls was somewhat useful in Nigeria itself as a way for locals to organize and pressure their government.

    THIS — though I’d skip the “somewhat” equivocation. It was useful, full-stop. Which is not to say that it will be the single most useful thing.

    Couple things to consider here, first the fact is that the movement was begun by — depending on who you ask –Africans, if not Nigerians:

    Thanks to the prevalence of social media tracking tools, the provenance of #BringBackOurGirls is easily tracked to its first use on April 23, by Ibrahim Abdullahi, a corporate lawyer in Abuja, Nigeria.

    He, however, credits the phrase to Obiageli Ezekwesili, a former vice president of the World Bank for the Africa region and a senior advisor on Africa Economic Development Policy for the Open Society Foundations, who said those four words in a TV appearance.
    http://www.nbcnews.com/tech/social-media/hashtag-wars-whos-behind-nigeria-bringbackourgirls-movement-n100771

    Second, to your points Hal, it served three key purposes:

    1. Shaming the Nigerian government (who had not sought outside help on this)
    2. Creating — even for a moment — a communitas around this topic
    3. Helping spark increased international news coverage of the event (especially here in the US).

    The third one is reflects the unfortunate truths about what makes something “newsworthy” — in-particular a key aspect is the amount of media artifacts that surround a story.

    Beyond that, I find this far less problematic that the slacktivism around Kony a few years ago. First, this was started in country and doesn’t have the same feeling of Westerners helping when no one asked them to. Second, as far as I know there isn’t currently a dubious NGO profiting off of this increased attention.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  16. Matt Bernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    then you get the stuff like the Steyn link above where he is certain that the problem can be solved by military force, which is yet another problem

    Why anyone would turn to a theatre critic (with no military experience beyond reading classics in the UK) for military advice is beyond me.

    (For the record, Frank Rich isn’t the first place I’d turn to either on military topics).

    Further, given what a brilliant job our Military/Government has done in fostering stable states in Afghanistan and Iraq (not to mention Libya for those on the conservative side of the aisle), I’m curious why anyone would argue that they would do any better in this case (especially given how (in)effectual the military resources we’ve shared to help hunt down Kony).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  17. gVOR08 says:

    Two weeks ago Doug was, properly, bemoaning the lack of attention to this story. Now it has lots of attention and Michelle with the hashtag helped. Whatever the US and the international community end up doing, they would not have done it without this attention.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  18. Tillman says:

    @gVOR08: I honestly never saw the Michelle Obama hashtag picture. I saw its photoshopped cousin, “If this gets 1 million likes, Barack says he will resign!”

    That one’s pretty popular on the conservaside of the Facebook feed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  19. al-Ameda says:

    Talk about the timeless generation gap.

    The fact is, we, all of us are getting used to the potential power of social media. In this new social media environment awareness can surely be raised in an instant, and this instant awareness can result in action – by citizens, by governments, or whomever. Whether social media will play a role in the safe release of the girls remains to be seen – I have my doubts, but there’s no denying the potential or latent power of social media.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  20. gVOR08 says:

    @Tillman: I hadn’t seen it myself ’til someone linked to the Ann Coulter “#bring back our country” version. (The a mocker link in the first paragraph.) Whoever linked added that she’d need to talk to Robert E. Lee about getting her country back.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  21. JWH says:

    In seriousness …

    I generally regard hashtag campaigns with a shrug, but I think there’s something to the #bringbackourgirls campaign. It wasn’t started by American white liberals feeling a bit of noblesse oblige. It originated with ACTUAL Nigerians who were trying to get their government to act against Boko Haram. And it drew both national and international attention. That gives it a hell of a lot of legitimacy.

    As far as Michelle Obama goes … I’m of two opinions. On the one hand, it seems silly for the First Lady, or any government official, to take a picture with a hash tag and pretend that actually does anything. On the other hand, it’s difficult for the president (or any high government official) to directly act on a situation without unwanted political consequences. On the other hand, if the president’s wife takes a picture, it tells the world that US leaders are quite aware of what is going on, and it assays a soft political stance without committing the president to a specific action.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  22. rudderpedals says:

    The petty, churlish criticisms of hashtag publicity demonstrates a striking lack of self-awareness and hypocrisy. It’s almost self-parody.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 3

  23. mantis says:

    I followed your link to Mark Steyn (labeled appropriately “jerk” ), which starts thusly:

    It is hard not to have total contempt

    I stopped reading there as it perfectly encapsulates the man and his fellow travelers. They are incapable of not being contemptuous at all times. Without it, their lives have no meaning. I pity them, really.

    The involvement of the First Lady in this case just makes it worse. For reasons I cannot begin to understand, they hate her with undying intensity. If she tells kids it’s healthy to eat vegetables, they fly into a rage. And they write books calling others “unhinged.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  24. An Interested Party says:

    …perceived heads of state (Obama)…

    Perceived? It’s not like he was appointed by the Supreme Court…

    They should be rolling into the jungle with the head crackers.

    Who knew that the G.I. Joe team was real…

    …it’s just the complete lameness of trying to look like you give a damn about something you’re not going to (or can’t) do anything about.

    Hmmm…much like so many people who wear so many different pins on their lapels/blouses/etc….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  25. al-Ameda says:

    @mantis:
    I

    followed your link to Mark Steyn (labeled appropriately “jerk” ), which starts thusly:

    It is hard not to have total contempt

    It is hard not to have contempt for Mark Steyn. He and Charles Krauthammer are quite possibly the 2 most unhappy and miserable people in the Western Hemisphere (I do not include the Southern Hemisphere because I’m open to the possibility that other pundits maybe as miserable as those two.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  26. gVOR08 says:

    @mantis:

    For reasons I cannot begin to understand, they hate her with undying intensity.

    Commendable understatement, given that we all, except for the more un-self aware conservatives, know damn well why.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  27. bookdragon says:

    Jon Stewart had a great segment on this a couple night ago, both pointing out how the hashtagavism influenced Nigeria’s president to finally accept international aid and lampooning Rush for being a total jerk, grump and mocker.

    I’m amazed by the mockers’ argument that it’s only an empty ineffective ‘feel good’ thing. I started writing letters as part of an Amnesty International campaign back in the 80s to write on behalf prisoners of conscious in the then-USSR. In many ways it was the snail mail version of hashtagivism and it was one of rather few social justice activities in college that involved both liberals and conservatives.

    Did it do any good? In some cases, yes, in others, no. However, I don’t recall anyone mocking our efforts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  28. Disinterested party says:

    @An Interested Party says

    …perceived heads of state (Obama)…

    Perceived? It’s not like he was appointed by the Supreme Court…Michelle Obama….?

    My God I could only imagine Mr. Obama holding a sign with #hash tag I am(was) the most powerful man in the world now I am reduced to holding a sign in a picture.

    SAS, Seal Team, COS….those are the “GI JOES” that should of been sent in a Month ago at this point.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5

  29. Matt Bernius says:

    @JWH:

    On the other hand, if the president’s wife takes a picture, it tells the world that US leaders are quite aware of what is going on, and it assays a soft political stance without committing the president to a specific action.

    Further, there’s a pretty well established history of First Ladies doing exactly this category of support, even if the particular form it takes is something “new.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  30. An Interested Party says:

    …Michelle Obama….?

    Ahh, the fact that the first lady would dare to do such a thing is just horrible…what impudence!

    SAS, Seal Team, COS….those are the “GI JOES” that should of been sent in a Month ago at this point.

    So you believe in the John McCain version of foreign policy which is just so very rational…

    However, I don’t recall anyone mocking our efforts.

    Well, anything that the President or anyone associated with him does simply MUST be mocked, as some of the comments above make clear…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  31. grumpy realist says:

    I think Ann Coulter’s tag should have been listed as #pleasepayattentiontome. She’s got the schtick down, alright….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  32. Scott O says:

    @grumpy realist:
    Done

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  33. KM says:

    @bookdragon:

    I’m amazed by the mockers’ argument that it’s only an empty ineffective ‘feel good’ thing. I started writing letters as part of an Amnesty International campaign back in the 80s to write on behalf prisoners of conscious in the then-USSR. In many ways it was the snail mail version of hashtagivism and it was one of rather few social justice activities in college that involved both liberals and conservatives.

    Same here – ah, the political fire of youth.

    Why is it empty if its hashtagivism as opposed to a letter or email, I wonder? For that matter, why isn’t tying ribbons around trees or putting bumper stickers on for the cause derided as pointless ‘feel good tactics’? Neither actually does anything but its simply theatrics. Not one POW sticker has brought a solider home, not one pink ribbon has cured a patient. Wonder if they mock those?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  34. Joe says:

    @KM: @KM: Why isn’t have a radio show or TV show where you utter, explain or rant your opinions just a feel good tactic for you and those who agree with you? How do you build politic force behind any position or a policy without socializing it among people who do or who might – if an issue is brought to their attention – agree with you and adopt the policy personally and then politically. These mockers are criticizing Michelle Obama and others for doing exactly what the mockers do for a living, except with a different political message. Their apparent lack of self awareness is either disingenuous or breathtaking.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  35. Matt Bernius says:

    Just another quick thought on this topic.

    Is the hashtag action different than the informal shrines and memorials people created around the world after 9/11? If so, why/how?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  36. wr says:

    @bill: “it’s not that anyone wants the girls to die or be sold , it’s just the complete lameness of trying to look like you give a damn about something you’re not going to (or can’t) do anything about. some people need to feel better about themselves ”

    Just wondering, is this how you react when people “pray” for the victims of natural disasters or other evils?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0