The Power of Hashtags: Bringing Social Issues to a Bigger Audience

I’ve met a lot of people who don’t bother creating Twitter accounts, dismissing the social media platform as something trivial. They often scoff, “Why would I want to read about what people ate for breakfast?” or “Why would I want to post every little thought I have throughout the day?”

I can completely relate to these complaints; after all, I think everyone who uses Twitter has rolled their eyes at least once at an aggressive Twitter friend who tweets about anything and everything every day. But why do we do that, aside from that behavior being just plain annoying?

We do it because many of us know Twitter is more than just a personal rant and rave channel. How many of us use Twitter to get quick news bites from GMA News and ABS-CBN News, or to get regular traffic updates from MMDA?

More than that, Twitter has become an effective platform for promoting advocacies and bringing social issues to light. Just recently, “hashtag activists” have used Twitter to boost global awareness for the Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram activists.

A History of Violence

The militant group, Boko Haram, has had a long history of violence and insurgency in Nigeria. The fighting has lasted for almost five years, displacing over 500,000 people and killing more than 4,000. Boko Haram has attacked villages and schools, killing hundreds of students and abducting young girls to use as cooks or sex slaves.

On April 14, 2014, over 200 girls were abducted when Boko Haram attacked the Government Secondary School in Chibok. The media was slow to pick up on the incident, what with the whole world abuzz with news about the South Korean ferry, missing Malaysia Airlines plane, and Clippers owner Donald Sterling being racist.

The Origins of #BringBackOurGirls

The hashtag, #BringBackOurGirls, has helped those concerned about the abducted Nigerian girls make their voices heard above the Twitter chatter. Its origins can be traced to a speech delivered by Nigerian government official and Vice President of the World Bank for Africa, Oby Ezekwesil, wherein he demanded the girls’ release.

Two men who attended the event turned the iconic quote into a hashtag:


And then Ezekwesil tweeted to encourage everyone to start using the hashtag:


The hashtag continued gaining exposure gradually, but it wasn’t until April 30 that it really started spreading like wildfire. That was the day the world found out that hundreds of young Nigerian girls were being given to Islamic militants as “brides” (sex slaves), or sold at local markets for $12.

Still Trending

Weeks have passed since the incident, but the world still continues to cry out for justice for the abducted girls. Topsy’s analytics shows that the hashtag appeared an increasing number of times over the past weeks, and appeared more than 400,000 times yesterday alone.

A screenshot of Topsy’s analytics for #bringbackourgirls

A screenshot of Topsy’s analytics for #bringbackourgirls

Some of those tweets were from high profile celebrities and politicians, whose posts were retweeted thousands of times.





BuzzFeed News shared a Vine video showing the hashtag’s worldwide progression (courtesy of CartoDB) and how it has spread like wildfire:

Twitter has evolved into something other than a place for people to selfishly share what’s relevant to them. It’s become a channel where people can come together with thousands of other individuals to fight for a good cause.

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Elrica Gosiengfiao

Elrica Gosiengfiao

Born to a family of writers and bookworms, Elrica Gosiengfiao has always been a self-professed geek. She works as a marketing copywriter, but spends much of her free time traversing different worlds through books and games. El also has a background in visual arts and graphic design, and has a love affair with anything art nouveau.