#BringBackOurGirls: Social media campaign urges the safe return of Nigerian schoolgirls

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A campaign calling for the safe return of over 200 schoolgirls abducted by Islamic militants in northern Nigeria is gaining momentum on social media, and #BringBackOurGirls has now been tweeted over one million times.

Extremist Muslims under the leadership of terrorist organisation Boko Haram – meaning Western education is forbidden – have claimed responsibility for the capture and abduction of 276 girls who were taken from their school in Chibok on 14 April. Though some were able to escape, around 230 are believed still to be missing.

Boko Haram has caused thousands of deaths since its initial uprising in 2000, and members of the militant faction abducted 8 more young girls on Monday this week. A video was recently obtained by AFP News Agency in which leader Abubakar Sheka for the first time admitted that his followers were behind the abductions.

In the harrowing hour-long video, Sheka threatens to sell the girls, claiming that women should not receive education but should instead marry. "God instructed me to sell them, they are his properties and I will carry out his instructions," he declares.

"By Allah, I will sell them in the marketplace."

Though initially little international media coverage was given to the tragedy, recent days have seen a surge in those imploring for international governments to step in and ensure that the girls are returned safely to their homes.

#BringBackOurGirls has been tweeted over a million times, and a dedicated Facebook page has almost 60,000 likes. Protests have been held outside embassies all over the world in a bid to bring greater attention to the girls' suffering, and politicians, celebrities and human rights advocates alike have proved keen to add their voice to the campaign.

"Access to education is a basic right & an unconscionable reason to target innocent girls. We must stand up to terrorism. #BringBackOurGirls" tweeted Hillary Clinton on May 4.

American actor, director and producer Forrest Whittacker also tweeted "They've broken our hearts, they won't break our will 2 #BringBackOurGirls. If u can speak give them a voice. If u can act, u must! #Nigeria" to his 80,000 followers yesterday.

In an unprecedented move, US President Obama has since confirmed that a team of experts has already been sent to help with the girls' rescue. Press Secretary Jay Carney said on Tuesday: "Time is of the essence. Appropriate action must be taken to locate and to free these young women before they are trafficked or killed."

Many have suggested that the social media campaign has encouraged the US to get involved in the tragedy, and the international media to increase its coverage.

"Top story on most stations. Goes to show that social media can indeed make a difference. #bringbackourgirls" tweeted US Christian blogger Rachel Held Evans last night.

However, the BringBackOurGirls Facebook page has encouraged people to actively campaign, as well as use their online platforms. It suggests that campaigners write to world leaders and demand their help in rescuing the girls, and organise rallies and marches to shed light on the issue.

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