WASHINGTON - Social media sites have exploded with urgent appeals to #bringbackourgirls, ramping up global awareness of the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram extremists 24 days earlier.
The hashtag appeared 412,000 times on Twitter on Thursday alone, more than any other day since the April 14 mass abduction, keeping the topic firmly on Twitter's trending list throughout the day.
"Our prayers are with the missing Nigerian girls and their families. It's time to #BringBackOurGirls," wrote US First Lady Michelle Obama under a picture retweeted more than 48,000 times.
Celebrities added their voices, with Oscar winner Anne Hathaway joining a protest in Los Angeles after fellow A-lister Angelina Jolie, in Paris, declared the kidnappings "unthinkable cruelty and evil." The biggest of several Bring Back Our Girls pages on Facebook attracted 94,000 likes, while a multilingual petition on Change.org urging world leaders to get involved sailed past 706,000 signatures.
White House petition grows
Nigeria and the United Nations to rescue the schoolgirls swelled to 21,000 names.
"This campaign has really exceeded my expectations," said Hadiza Bala Usman, who has led protests in the schoolgirls' hometown Chibok and helped spearhead the #bringbackourgirls campaign.
"We are at a point where Nigerians need to know that they have social media as a tool," she told AFP. "You can't suppress us. We have a voice." Since the crisis began, the #bringbackourgirls hashtag has appeared 1.8 million times on Twitter, according to Topsy.com, a social media analytics website - with 1.4 million of those tweets in the past week alone.
"One thing that makes this campaign unique is that it has activated people around the globe rather than just those who live in a certain region or speak the same language," said Shelby Knox, a senior campaigner at Change.org.