Recently, George Will and the folks at Fox News thought it would be a clever rebuttal to Michele Obama to mock the effectiveness of a hashtag. In typical Fox fashion, they're faux pas could have been avoided with a cursory interest in history.
“It’s an exercise in self-esteem. I don’t know how adults stand there, facing a camera, and say, ‘Bring back our girls.’ Are these barbarians in the wilds of Nigeria supposed to check their Twitter accounts and say ‘Uh-oh, Michelle Obama is very cross with us, we better change our behavior.’”Typically, this was either a case of the right-wing media either missing the point or trying to create a red herring. The point of #bringbackourgirls wasn't to reach the "barbarians in the wild of Nigeria." It was to reach the world. And the very fact that they were ridiculing on Fox proves it worked.
And the interesting thing here is that there actually is a history that suggests that raising international awareness has helped bring children home.
In Argentina, form 1976 to 1983, so-called "dissidents" were being disappeared by the despotic government, known as the "Junta."
Anyone who was suspected of speaking out against the government was being rounded up and taken away. Then they "disappeared." They were often tortured and executed and then dumped into mass, unmarked graves.
First, 14 "Mothers of the Disappeared" begin to gather in the Plaza de Mayo, showing pictures of their children to raise awareness. The Junta tried to dismiss them as crazy women, but the movement grew.
The government also had their hands tied a bit. The World Cup was in 1978 and to disappear the suddenly public Mothers of the Plaza De Mayo would not do them any favors. Since they couldn't get rid of the women, they tried to discredit them, calling them "crazy."
The main weapon the women had was international awareness. As quoted here by Lester Kurtz of NonViolent.com, Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVal, in their book A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict, it worked.
International attention to the movement was cultivated as a strategy, facilitated by Argentina’s hosting of the World Cup in 1978, where the international press corps covered the Plaza demonstrations as a corollary to the sporting events, aided by the appearance of players from several European teams at the Plaza in a show of solidarity. Similarly, an international health conference in Buenos Aires was met by the Mothers and witnessed by the international media that broadcast their new slogan: “They took them away alive, we want them returned alive”The women would gather in the Plaza, wearing white scarves as a sign of solidarity. And the women kept coming back and the awareness grew. The military government tried to fire back, but by then even the soldiers were seemingly reluctant to carry out orders.
As the resistance escalated, so did the public repression of the movement. In the city of Mendoza, for example, as the Mothers demonstrated, police fired on the demonstrators with machine guns, with one fatality and a reported ten injuries. The incident backfired, according to Else de Becerra (Fisher 1989: 114) but the question remains as to why the police were only able to kill and injure so few firing a short distance into a crowd with machine guns unless they were somehow failing to carry out their orders. After the Malvinas-Falkland defeat, the emboldened resistance saw thousands joining the Mothers for a 24-hour “March of Resistance” on the plaza on 10 December 1982. The regime’s legitimacy had collapsed.Part of the reason for the movement's success was that, because of the awareness that was raised, the Mothers were able to receive help in proceeding.
Although the Mothers of the Plaza were the most visible aspect of the movement, especially in the beginning, other groups were mobilizing support for the resistance, notably SERPAJ, which provided financial support and strategic advice to the movement comprised primarily of women with no prior political activist experience.Raising international awareness, historically has been proven to be effective. To ask if a "hashtag" is going to convince the "barbarians in the wilds" is akin to asking if "white scarves" are going to convince "military despots"to step down.
The whole point was never to reach the captors, but to captivate the attention of the world. The fact that the world is waking up and paying attention to what would have otherwise gone ignored proves it works.