In The First Turning I wrote a chapter titled “Social Media: Not Your Neighbor’s Front Porch” in which I examine how social media has linked the world’s citizens and given people a launch pad for more than just social interaction. In recent years, social media sites have become a powerful platform for calling attention to real issues in the world – mobilizing humanitarian aid efforts in such instances as the devastating earthquake in Haiti and rallying behind the rights of those whose civil liberties are being transgressed by their nation’s own leaders, as seen in Egypt and China.
Today I am once again reminded of how social media can be used to run to the aid of those in need. On April 14, nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls were herded out of their beds at their school by Boko Haram militants and abducted into the area’s dense forest. As of today—May 8, 2014—276 remain missing.
Though media outlets have given, and continue to give, the story some real estate in their programs and on their pages, it is largely the digital chatter that has led to increased attention on the matter. In the days since their disappearance, people across the globe have been adding their voice to a rising chorus calling for the girls’ freedom. On Twitter, #BringBackOurGirls has become one of the trending digital chants. Upon news that the girls would become shared wives among the militants, the hashtagged exclaim exploded—it has now been tweeted more than 1 million times.
Not one of us can know what the Nigerian girls are experiencing, but certain things come to mind. Alone. Frightened. Terrified. Worse yet, forgotten. In this moment, we cannot stave off their fear. In this moment, we cannot make them feel less terrified. We are not yet able to say with certainty that they will be saved.
But one thing we can do is to let the 276 girls and their families know that they are not forgotten.
We can sound the alarm on this gross violation of human rights and urge those with the power to affect change to do just that. We can build this worldwide campaign to epic proportions such that it envelopes the strife of the Nigerian girls and their families in a message of strength and solidarity, in a message of compassion and love.
And eventually, we can use the powers of social media among other measures in a globally coordinated surge to uncover the elusive dealings of the ruthless Boko Haram and put an end to the terror Shekau and his militants are igniting across the land in Nigeria. We can continue using our powers for good; we can continue applying them toward a new, better, more peaceful world.