We have tremendous power at our fingertips. With a simple click we can share our thoughts, feelings and opinions with thousands of people all over the world. There are days I revel in this simple power and others where it makes me shudder in horror.
Two months ago no one knew who Boko Haram was. If they had heard a whisper, it about a warlord in Northern Nigeria and then they flipped to read about Kim Kardashian and her tacky wedding dress.
Then Boko Haram kidnapped 200 school girls and everything changed. The traditional press went into survival mode. They know something the ordinary man on the street didn’t. They know that even more dangerous than giving into a terrorist’s demands, is giving them publicity. So, they self censored.
We didn’t. We jumped on the hashtag bandwagon with all the best intentions in the world. Of course we believed that the world should know, should DO something. We didn’t stop to think of the consequences of our actions.
Part of my job is to evaluate the social media publicity of the brands I work on and give it a monetary value. There is no monetary value on the publicity Boko Haram received, that’s how big it is.
A little known warlord and his extremism have been uplifted to world notoriety.
He didn’t want a million dollars or a hundred prisoners released. He got exactly what he wanted, exactly what he had planned for, exactly what we gave him. He couldn’t have bought the publicity we gave out for free.
The sad fact is that those girls are not going to be rescued. They have outlived their usefulness for both the terrorists and the fickle attention of social media.
If their government and world forces had acted in the first 48 hours, their story might be different. If the telecommunication networks instead of paying Boko Haram to erect base stations in his territory had cut all telecoms instead, we could have cut him off at the knees.
We didn’t. They didn’t. We just fed his grandiose self-importance by our naive reaction.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t have been distraught, enraged and horrified by what happened. I am saying that we need to think who we are helping by using the power of social media to spread our reactions. We didn’t help those girls. We helped the men who kidnapped them at gunpoint. We are complicit in what has happened.
If there was not an environment of social media and the free dissemination of whatever we want, Boko Haram would never have bothered kidnapping them in the first place. It would not have served their interests. They did what they did precisely because they knew how we would react and what we would do. We gave them a stage, an international platform and it’s time we took responsibility.
Just because we have a mouth and a voice and the technology to reach into the homes and lives of millions, doesn’t mean we should. We are not privy to press briefings, military briefings or government machinations. We don’t know the whole story and grabbing onto one little part of it can be as dangerous as knowing nothing.
So, ask yourself, would ISIS be playing rugby with a severed head and mowing down civilians with machine guns if they couldn’t Twitter it as it happened? They are uploading on 15 seconds intervals the proof of their inhumanity and we gave them the stage to do it.
Even worse, we’re watching it, devouring it. It’s better than Honey BooBoo. It’s reality TV and the sick thing is we love it. Just look at how many times those images have been shared over the past week.
Next time you click share, think about whose interests you are serving and then think about whether or not it is responsible to do so.