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#BringBackOurGirls is a Twitter hashtag campaign launched by a group of Nigerians to raise awareness and call upon the international community for action after nearly 300 Nigerian school girls were kidnapped by a jihadist terrorist group in April 2014.
On April 15th, 2014, approximately 276 Nigerian female students were abducted by a group of armed militants from the Government Girls Secondary School in the town of Chibok in Borno State, Nigeria. In the following days, Nigerian officials speculated that the Islamic jihadist terrorist group Boko Haram may have been behind the kidnappings and criticism of the Nigerian government’s inaction and Western media’s lack of coverage emerged. On April 23rd, the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls was first tweeted out by lawyer Ibrahim M. Abdullahiand spread through Twitter users in Nigeria.
As of May 2014, a little over 50 girls have reportedly escaped their kidnappers. On May 5th, the leader of Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the abductions in a video statement. As of May 4th, more than 40% of the hashtag activity came from the United States. As of May 6th, 2014, the hashtag has been tweeted out over 1.2 million times.
On May 3rd, 2014, education and equality activist Malala tweeted a picture from her foundation’s Twitter account of herself holding a sign with the hashtag. In less than a week the tweet gained over 4,000 retweets.
News Media Coverage
On May 4th, Refinery29 published a collection of Instagram images that used the hashtag. On May 5th ABC news published an article titled “Twitter Campaign #BringBackOurGirls Takes Off,” which explored how the hashtag’s popularity grew after celebrities tweeted it out. On May 6th, Buzzfeed published a post titled “The Nigerian School Girls Are Still Missing And International Outrage Is Rising,” which collected many of the most powerful tweets which used the hashtag.
On May 7th, American photographer Ami Vitale discovered that photographs she took of girls back in 2000 while visiting a village in Guinea-Bissau, a West African country more than 2,200 miles away from Nigeria, were being misused in a number of promotional images for the hashtag campaign.
However, by the time she realized that her photographs were being misrepresented as images of Nigerian girls, they had been retweeted thousands of times, including celebrities like Chris Brown and even the BBC. That same day, Vitale tweeted:
On May 8th, the New York Times Lens Blog reported on the misrepresentation in a Q&A interview with the photographer, followed by the Washington Post’s coverage of the story on the morning of May 9th.
On May 7th, Michelle Obama shared a picture of herself looking rather concerned while holding up a sign with the hashtag written on it. In less than a week, the First Lady’s tweet brought in more than 57,000 retweets and 34,000 favorites.
Ann Coulter’s Response
On the following day, American conservative author Ann Coulter tweeted a parody of Michelle Obama’s photograph with a sign which read #BringBackOurCountry. Coulter’s mocking photograph was met with over 2,000 retweets and nearly 2,000 favorites, though not without its fair share of critical responses and backlash from others on Twitter.
My hashtag contribution to world affairs … pic.twitter.com/Wkb8ozYZFC— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) May 12, 2014
Within hours of the tweet, more than a dozen photoshopped parodies poking fun at Coulter’s sign-holding photograph began to surface on Twitter, which were subsequently covered by Gawker, The Daily Dot, Talking Point Memo and Mediate, among other news outlets.
Anti-Drone Strike Campaign
Meanwhile, the critics of Obama administration’s drone strike policy also jumped in on the hashtag meme with parodies of Michelle Obama’s sign-holding photograph. On May 12th, BuzzFeed picked up on the anti-drone campaign.
New York Times – The Real Story About the Wrong Photos in #BringBackOurGirls