We live in a brave new media world in the year 2014.
The way we conduct all sorts of business has changed dramatically just within the past few years. The recent unrest in Ferguson has shown the power twitter has to connect people – journalists, citizens, law enforcement, protesters and more. Twitter especially has changed politics in local, national, and even international affairs. Long gone are the days of a simple presidential “fireside chat” with the American people. Instead, we are seeing how political leaders can make statements with a few keystrokes and recent social media trends have demonstrated the impact that a mere hashtag can have even on an international level.
Two recent examples are #UnitedforUkraine and #BringBackOurGirls. If you’re on social media or you've paid attention to the news at all lately, you've probably noticed the attention these trends have brought to their respective issues.
On October 17, BBC News reported that the Nigerian government agreed to a cease fire with the terrorist organization Boko Haram. Part of the deal will reportedly return the more than 200 girls who were kidnapped around six months ago. However, on November 1 international news outlets reported that Boko Haram's leader denied such an agreement every took place, even saying the girls had converted to Islam and had been married off.
It is true that the attention generated by those hashtag campaigns can be a very positive thing. For example, did you know that there are over 2,000 kidnappings a year in Nigeria? That is powerful information to know. However, knowing how to use that information to accomplish something is even more powerful. The peril is that we do nothing with that new knowledge. We ought to step back and ask some basic but practical questions, such as “What is actually being done?” and “Have these campaigns succeeded in real, tangible ways?”
While the answer to the first question is a bit more complex, for all intents-and-purposes, the answer to the latter question is “no”, for the simple fact that fighting is still on-going in Ukraine, and the kidnapped Nigerian girls have not been returned just yet, although that could change very soon. In fact, the leader of Boko Haram mocked the hashtag campaign in a propaganda video released in July.
As you’re reading this you might be wondering how this translates into your daily life, so here’s the point: don’t let social media be a substitute for real, tangible, substantive activity. Instead of posting an interesting article on facebook (like this blog post) and forgetting about it, have a conversation with your friends and share what you learned. Instead of complaining or worrying about a societal issue, take action to address it. Volunteer with your local church, food bank, or non-profit. If you can’t volunteer, find legitimate ways to donate to an organization that is working to address the issue.
#HashtagDiplomacy is just the first step towards raising awareness, and that can be very powerful. But there is peril in not acting on that knowledge. So be real! Take action!