The Sound and the Fury — and the Tweet

Video: Protesters spoke out at the Nigerian embassy in Washington, D.C. to express their disappointment in the Nigerian government after an extremist group kidnapped nearly 300 girls on April 15th

For The Washington PostCharles Krauthammer writes: Mass schoolgirl kidnapping in Nigeria — to tweet or not to tweet? Is hashtagging one’s indignation about some outrage abroad an exercise in moral narcissism or a worthy new way of standing up to bad guys?John Shinkle/POLITICO

“As always, however, we tend to romanticize the power of the tweet…”

The answer seems rather simple. It depends on whether you have the power to do something about the outrage in question. If you do, as in the case of the Obama administration watching Russia’s slow-motion dismemberment of Ukraine, it’s simply embarrassing when the State Department spokeswoman tweets the hashtag #UnitedForUkraine.

“…Try it at Tahrir or Tiananmen, in Damascus or Tehran. They will shoot and torture you, then maybe even let you keep your precious smartphone.”

That is nothing but preening, a visual recapitulation of her boss’s rhetorical fatuousness when he sternly warns that if the rape of this U.S. friend continues, we are prepared to consider standing together with the “international community” to decry such indecorous behavior — or some such.

[Read more: Will: I Can’t Believe Adults Use Hashtag Foreign Policy, ‘An Exercise in Self-Esteem’]

When a superpower, with multiple means at its disposal, reverts to rhetorical emptiness and hashtag activism, it has betrayed both its impotence and indifference. But if you’re an individual citizen without power, if you lack access to media, drones or special forces, then hashtagging your solidarity with the aggrieved is a fine gesture and perhaps even more.

The mass tweet is, after all, just the cyber equivalent of the mass petition. And people don’t sneer at petitions. Historically, they’ve been a way for individuals, famous or anonymous, to make their views known and, by weight of number, influence authorities who, in democratic societies, might respond to such expressions of popular sentiment.

The hashtag campaign for the Nigerian girls — originated in Nigeria by Nigerians — was meant to do exactly that: pressure the Nigerian government to respond more seriously to the kidnapping. It has already had this effect. And attention from abroad has helped magnify the pressure.

As always, however, we tend to romanticize the power of the tweet. For a while, Twitter (and other social media) was seen as a game-changer that would empower the masses and invert the age-old relationship between the ruler and ruled….(read more)

The Washington Post

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