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Published on June 4th, 2014 | by Amy Garry
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Social Media and Causes: the lasting impact.

Social media is now embedded into every day society, from the use of Facebook for letting people know where you are and who you’re with, taking photos and sharing them on Instagram, to just having a bit of a rant on Twitter. Therefore, it’s only a natural progression that these platforms are also used to discuss current affairs, in particular, the continuous use of the hashtag to discuss issues of a political nature.

Identifying this trend has made me think more about the impact social media is having on the way that politics and international relations are discussed, and how beneficial this platform is. I have come to the conclusion that there are two key areas of concern that arise through the use of the hashtag in order to promote and discuss ‘issues’ in society.

The first concern is that the discussion generated through social media becomes the story, placing less emphasis on the actual story itself. In addition, when giving this issue more consideration, it becomes apparent that when people take to social media, it is usually to condemn governments for their lack of action in any number of political circumstances. This leads to the second point that I want to discuss: social media is used to pressure governments to act against wrongdoings in our society, rather than just acting.

There are several examples that I could draw upon to explain my argument, but because of the recent kidnapping of young girls in Nigeria I have decided to specifically examine this outrage in more detail.

In April 2014 approximately 280 girls were kidnapped from a boarding school in northern Nigeria. The Islamist group Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the kidnappings, and it has been assumed that the girls have been taken hostage in an attempt to release some of their own political prisoners. This incident has sparked an international outcry for the Nigerian government, along with the international community to demand, and so far unsuccessfully, the release of the children. These calls for action have predominately stemmed from the social media campaign #bringbackourgirls.

The use of any platform to promote the awareness of campaigns similar to this one is worthwhile and highlights the power of social media to convey an immediate and effective message across all borders. However, my concern relates to this being the sole form of campaign, although thankfully it is one that serves to remind governments that they will not be allowed to abdicate from their responsibilities.

#bringbackourgirls was established by activists to raise awareness of this tragic and deplorable situation, and with little support or acknowledgement from the Nigerian government. However, action is now being taken by the international community, primarily due to the support generated via social media for this campaign. The question begs: why does it take a worldwide public outcry for the international community to act?

In principle, the foundations of the electoral system in the UK are to vote for those that you wish to be governed by. It is with the power appointed to them that they should act on behalf of the electorate. The evidence suggesting that they are only acting due to the public outcry regarding the Nigerian girls’ situation seems counter-intuitive. Surely action should be taken to start with? They have already received our mandate, why wait?

In addition to social media being used as leverage to ‘persuade’ and shame politicians into action, it can also take over as the ‘story’ rather than the subject matter being discussed. In other words, the widespread use of the hashtag becomes the story. For me, this serves to trivialize the importance and true aims of campaigning on social media outlets

Once again, with the case of the campaign #bringbackourgirls, the traditional news outlets were discussing who has tweeted about it now? This began when Michelle Obama tweeted a photo of herself holding up a sign saying #bringbackourgirls. This created a domino effect, with social media users from all walks of celebrity life tweeting and instagramming their outrage at what has happened in Nigeria. It cannot be denied that this promotion does provide positives in order to progress the campaign and gather further support. However, it also seems to detract from the real issue at hand. Why was it newsworthy just because the First Lady has tweeted about it? For me, I’d much prefer to know about the recent developments on the situation. The use of social media in this way seems more of a personal ‘spotlight searching’ publicity stunt, rather than trying to gain support for a significant worthwhile cause. High profile people such as Michelle Obama have the power and ability to do so much more than take a photo.

The campaign #bringbackourgirls shows me the endless positive possibilities that using the platform of social media can have on promoting and raising awareness to issues and causes on a global scale. As we become more reliant on social media to provide us with information, it is essential that we are also aware of the pitfalls. In particular, it is most important that ‘personal promotion’ on social media is not allowed to take precedence over the real issues and subsequent campaigns

Going forward I believe that it is important we tread with care regarding how social media is used, in particular when it comes to issues such as the Nigerian girls’ kidnappings. Although it is convenient to use one platform for several means, we must also be wary of serious causes being trivialised, inadvertently or otherwise. What do you think?


Please note that all blog posts do not represent the views of Catch21 but only of the individual writers. We also aim to be factually accurate and balanced across all content taken as a whole.

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About the Author

Masters graduate in International Relations. I am particularly interested in governance and the impact this has upon society.

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