Politics & Policy

Michelle Obama: Twitter Activist

The White House is getting serious about Islamic terrorism; but first, let them take a selfie.

Everyone can breathe a sigh of relief. Our girls will be returned because Michelle Obama has tweeted a picture of herself looking sad and holding a sign.

On April 14, the Islamist fundamentalist militant group Boko Haram kidnapped more than 300 schoolgirls from a boarding school in northern Nigeria. On Monday, May 5, the group’s leader, a man named Abubakar Shekau, announced that he will be selling the girls as brides, declaring that “women are slaves.”

The Nigerian government’s reaction to the abduction has been, predictably, poor, to say the least. Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, did not even address the kidnapping for two weeks after the event, and Jonathan’s wife has stated that the abductions are a farce designed to ruin her husband’s political career.  

The Nigerian government’s blatant disregard for these young girls’ lives has, understandably, inspired rallies and protests throughout Nigeria. One Nigerian protester even started a hashtag, #BringBackOurGirls, which is currently trending all over the world, thankfully bringing awareness to this serious issue.

And how does the United States react to this terrible neglect of human rights, brought about by a group that is evil personified? This way:

But don’t worry, Michelle brought reinforcements:

“Holding up a sign that says something profound while looking solemn” is a popular trend in the Twitter-verse, especially on websites like The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed that specialize in “Click here!” journalism. The content tends to be short, often written in a “listicle” format. It features some kind of schmaltzy human-interest story or liberal political message, and the headlines often claim that the content of the article is “hauntingly beautiful” or “powerful” or will “take your breath away” or “make your day.”

Social-media strategists will tell you that these websites turn out obscene amounts of this kind of content per day to generate more page views, and whenever these websites want to pretend that they are producing meaningful news, they stick a few twenty-somethings in front of a camera, tell them to look sad, and give them a sign to hold.

This trend is the perfect blend of the social-media generation’s laziness and the need to belong to something. In fact, when ABC News reported Michelle Obama’s sign-holding, the headline read, “Michelle Obama Joins #BringOurGirlsBack Movement on Twitter.” Since when does tweeting a picture of yourself qualify as “joining” anything? Is this really the best the government of the most powerful country in the world can come up with in response to this abuse of human rights? Tweeting a pop-culture reference? Holding up a sign is the Internet mavens’ way of pretending that they care about an issue, but not enough to actually do something about it.

If Michelle Obama had held up that sign and then scheduled a trip to Nigeria, or spoken to the families of the kidnapped students, or met with President Jonathan, urging him to take action, or donated some of her personal money to a Nigerian non-profit,  her gesture might have been credible. Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban for advocating for women’s education, also posted a picture to the Malala Fund’s Twitter page of herself brandishing a sign with the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag. But she did it to advertise the fact that the fund is donating 100 percent of its profits go to “local Nigerian nonprofit organizations focused on education and advocacy for girls and women.” Clearly, a 16-year-old girl has upstaged the first lady of the United States.

The fake pout and poster with no action is a silly Internet trend that should never have been used for a situation as grave as this one. In fact, it is a downright insult to the families of the young girls who were abducted. Imagine if you told a close friend that your daughter had been kidnapped and her response was to text you a picture of herself holding a sign that read, “I’m so sorry to hear that!”

Once again, the Obama administration has proved that it is all “coolness” and no substance. Maybe we should start calling it the BuzzFeed administration.

— Christine Sisto is an editorial assistant at National Review.

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