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#BringBackOurGirls: When Hashtags Go Terribly Wrong
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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One dreary day in the middle of April, a group of girls went to their Nigerian school like any other day. Only this day, they never came home ... and still haven't come back. Why? A terrorist splinter cell group called Boko Haram (a name that translated in Hausa means 'Western education is a sin') that is so evil even Al Qaeda swears they don't approve of this mass kidnapping. (Yes, that Al Qaeda!) The girls range from 15 to 18, Christian and Muslim, and are all expected to become scholars, doctors, or something greater that would greatly influence their diseased country riddled with more crime than you could ever imagine. 

Those girls are being auctioned — as in, I'll take that girl to do whatever — for $12 U.S. So far, 50 have escaped and made it back home. That leaves 276 still missing! Dear God, find those girls and cause something violent to happen to their kidnappers. 

On April 23, a single tweet by Nigerian lawyer Ibrahim M. Abdullah started an international movement known as #BringBackOurGirls. It was his tag attached to his tweet in response to what he calls "complete dissatisfaction" with his government's response to the incident. By now, you have seen this everywhere. It trended worldwide — and for good reason. People were outraged by the Nigerian government doing nothing to get those girls back home. Then, it happened. The worst thing that can ever happen — celebrities began doing what they normally do: using tragedy for personal PR. 

Is it nice that celebrities are stopping by FedEx Kinkos before the Cannes movie festival to hold up a piece of paper reading "Bring Back Our Girls"? Sure. However, ask yourself, "Do Salma Hayek, Sly Stallone, Wesley Snipes (fresh out of prison his own self), and Mel Gibson (yeah, so there's that) really give a damn?" After they walk a red carpet pimping their movie but want to appear UN-friendly in front of cameras, are they going to lose a wink of sleep over the more than 250 girls still praying they can be brought back? Not a peep. Yes, it's sweet to use this horrendous plight to make yourself look good on entertainment TV because you know those folks will cover anything, but unless you are on the phone to the White House demanding Nigerian sanctions, have a nice cold glass of "Shut the hell up." 

It is nearly offensive to see that picture above. The hashtag is gone. The mission is missing. The meaning has been erased. Hollywood, have you called a mother or father missing their baby girl and asking what you can do to help? Have you traveled to Chibok? Do you even know what Chibok is? It's the city of the school where they were abducted, by the way. If not, stop it because while your sheep are completely fooled, the rest of the world is not — and they are not happy. I'll thank our First Lady for doing it — I'm certain she actually is trying to get those girls back. You? Other than asking your publicist to run some copies, not so much. 

Social media can be a world-changing tool. Technology is amazing. However, when it is in the hands of pomp and circumstantial, it's just a hashtag that will stop trending the second you turn off your phone. Americans who want to help need to learn to go beyond a hashtag and take action. Write a letter to your representative. Make a phone call to your Senator. I dare you to start a petition for the White House. Do something instead of tweet it. At least then we will know you care more than the beautiful people. You will care enough to make PR instead of just earn it. 


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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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