By now, most of you have heard or should know about the 276 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram in April. Ramaa Mosley, a Los Angeles mother, used social media in the last few weeks to get the word out by starting with a hashtag – #bringbackourgirls. Today, not only can Michelle Obama be seen holding up a sign with the hashtag written upon it, but her husband, our president, has sent American troops to Africa to help the Nigerians find their missing daughters.
We all remember KONY 2012, Jason Russell’s short film about Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, responsible for abducting and recruiting children for his army, forcing young boys to kill family members and young girls to be sex slaves. Russell used social media too and was so successful (100 million YouTube views in less than a week) that he imploded, having a psychotic breakdown on the streets of San Diego not long after his InvisibleChildren.com mission went viral (but let’s forget about that).
Both Mosley and Russell should be lauded for their efforts, imperfect though they were or may be. Cynics with snarky comments and others quick to criticize ‘slacktivism’ will always be close by, but young girls are missing so to hell with the naysayers. Mosley’s hashtag is making a difference. I’d never heard of Joseph Kony before KONY 2012.
Though here’s something I often consider: What about the ongoing tragedy in Syria that has affected the lives of nearly 5 million children? Or the estimated 9,000 children in South Sudan recruited as soldiers in their armed conflict? Or the 3000 kids killed by guns each year in the United States? Why can’t these causes go viral this week, too? Is it timing? Are they not sexy enough? Or is it simply a matter of clarity and space? “Nearly 300 girls were kidnapped/we have to find them and get them back” is easier than figuring out the good and bad guys in the Syrian conflict or attempting to reason with unreasonable I’ll-give-you-my-gun-when-you-pry-it-from-my-cold-dead-hands-folks. Sensible gun control legislation is complicated, but I’ll bet even Wayne LaPierre “Liked” the Bring Back Our Girls Facebook page.
Another short film recently sweeping Facebook is “Look Up” by Gary Turk. Turk presents mobile devices as the scourge of society, leaving playgrounds bereft of children and all of us slaves to technology. I don’t agree with everything he presents – our parks are full of kids swinging on swings and FB has brought me back in touch with dear friends – but I understand that serendipitous opportunities are going the way of the 8-track because of our reliance on Siri rather than a friend/stranger on a train/our brain.
Yesterday, some parents from Miss T’s class attended a meeting at school to discuss the students’ impending introduction to sex-ed. They’re ten- and eleven-years old so it’s very basic at first, mostly getting them comfortable with horrible words like ‘penis’, ‘vagina’, and ‘moist’. But much of the conversation revolved around the use of social media and how it can crush the soul of a pre-pubescent. In some cases that’s true and, honestly, I wish there was a law prohibiting cell phones until the age of eighteen, but there isn’t. Miss T doesn’t have one; some of her friends do. So far, there hasn’t been any major issues that I’m aware of and when she Skypes her BFF on her iPad at home after soccer practice, it’s a lot like when I was her age on the telephone. Mostly, as I listened to parents discuss their thoughts on 5th graders in general and their child specifically, I was reminding myself of relativity and trying not to minimize their concerns. Each one of them wants to raise a moral child, a social child, an empathic child – perhaps even one who takes to the interwebs in an attempt to effect change. But, despite ownership of our challenges and issues, they are in fact FWP (First World Problems). Our daughters have not been taken, nor are they being raped repeatedly during their captivity. It’s important to be grateful for our circumstances and understand that when it comes to our children and their devices, yes, we must monitor, set down rules, demand that they ‘look up’ more than they don’t, and explain the power – good and bad – of technology that has raced by us so quickly we haven’t had time to catch our breath. But then we have to actually catch our breath and relax, just a little bit. I’m certain stress will give us cancer faster than our smart phones. Everything in moderation.
Like all great innovation, social media is imperfect. It will not kill us, nor will it save us all. But used well and wisely, it can be anything from a diversion to a matchmaker, from a virtual community bulletin board to a means of survival – a hashtag that might lead to a rescue. It is one tool. It is not the entire toolbox.