In Defense of Hashtag Campaigns

 

justsayin-376x330Let me get something out of the way: Hashtag campaigns are stupid. That being said, those who are complaining that this is a weak response to the Nigeria situation are off base. Yes, its asinine. Yes, it’s unseemly. Yes, it’s inappropriate for a First Lady to get caught up in it. And yes, it’s a really bad idea to create a blank slate like the one above an release it on the Internet. But you’re missing the value of the thing.

The way a republic works is:

1. There is some dramatic event or an ongoing situation.

2. Groups of people cry out in a hysterical voice to “Do something!” (Often with an appeal about the children.)

3. Politicians, wanting to remain in office and having a keen understanding of the incentive structure of electoral politics, respond.

This response comes in two forms:

1. Actually doing something.

2. Looking like you’re doing something.

It should be noted that the second option is often more powerful than the first, although they’re not mutually exclusive (see the Gun Free School Zones Act of 1990).

The hashtag campaign for the Nigerian situation is a classic example of option #2. They look like they’re doing something without actually acting. In the most recent Ricochet Flagship podcast, Rob Long thought this was extremely cynical.  Perhaps it is, but it’s just misdirection, like a magician distracting you attention from a trick.

This misses the value of the campaign: the inaction. This “weak response” is as far as it’ll go. And I’m okay with that. I must recall at this point my favorite Winston Churchill quote “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”

If they want to have their stupid little hashtag campaign, I’m okay with that. That’s just jaw-jaw. It’s mostly harmless. The potential danger isn’t from the jaw-jaw.

When people cry out “Do something!”, especially when it involves children, I’ll take a hashtag campaign over US military action. The former costs me nothing. The latter is very expensive.

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  1. Whiskey Sam Inactive
    Whiskey Sam
    @WhiskeySam

    This isn’t harmless, though. It reinforces an image of weakness among our enemies who already perceive us as soft and unwilling to do what is necessary to defeat them. We would better off if they said nothing at all rather than running an ineffectual campaign of women holding up signs begging evil men to stop being mean. Deliberate displays of weakness invite aggression, and we will pay the price for such foolishness.

    • #1
  2. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    It’s not only “weak,” but unserious and juvenile.

    • #2
  3. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Whiskey Sam:

    This isn’t harmless, though. It reinforces an image of weakness among our enemies who already perceive us as soft and unwilling to do what is necessary to defeat them. We would better off if they said nothing at all rather than running an ineffectual campaign of women holding up signs begging evil men to stop being mean. Deliberate displays of weakness invite aggression, and we will pay the price for such foolishness.

     Sorry, I find it hard to square this “image of weakness” thing with this:

    • #3
  4. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    I think there would be much less backlash to the #bringbackourgirls meme if the wife of the Commander-In-Chief of the mightiest military in the history of the world hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon.

    Yes, yes, I know she isn’t the Commander-In-Chief herself, that she’s technically a private citizen and can do what she wants, and that it’s silly to say that the First Lady could simply ask her husband to fix the problem.

    I don’t buy those arguments, because of the kind of First Lady that Michelle Obama is, 

    If she was the sort of First Lady who goes out of her way to stay out of public affairs, and only wades in very exceptional circumstances, like Laura Bush or most before Lady Bird Johnson, then I might even think it was admirable for a First Lady who usually stays out of the limelight to put her neck out for a cause she truly believes in.

    Michelle Obama is not that kind of First Lady. Instead, she is the President’s top PR operative. Everything she does is for her husband’s benefit. That’s why this photo is so galling.

    • #4
  5. user_240173 Contributor
    user_240173
    @FrankSoto

    My Campaign would involve fewer hash tags, and more bullets to the skulls of would be slave traders.  Afterwards the president would raise awareness in a speech.

    “So let me be clear, those who would seek to profit by kidnapping, will get only a single reward.  Lead, dispensed by U.S. special forces in the traditional fashion.”

    • #5
  6. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Heh heh heh:

    • #6
  7. user_1029039 Inactive
    user_1029039
    @JasonRudert

    I’m with you Fred. But if they just want to express that they’re the sort of people who think kidnapping girls is a Bad Thing, they shouldn’t be using this imperative tone. Something like #not forgotten would get it across without making it sound like we’re actually expecting something to happen.

    • #7
  8. Mark Krikorian Contributor
    Mark Krikorian
    @MarkKrikorian

    My graduate advisor (who’d been in the Johnson White House) used to say “The American people demand all steps short of action!”

    American national character has a weakness for this sort of thing, that’s unrelated to our national interests but outrages people nonetheless — from the Greek War of Independence against the Turk invaders to these girls in Nigeria. Which is why sometimes we have to engage in a Vigorous Wringing of Hands — Now with Hashtags! We satisfy the deep public need to appear to be doing something without actually expending any blood or treasure.

    That being said, when something abroad affects an *actual* vital national interest, then we need lots and lots of guns.

    • #8
  9. user_998621 Member
    user_998621
    @Liz

    Winston Churchill quote “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”

    He could say that because he was fearless and neither hesitated nor quit when action was required.  From the mouth of those who would never act, it sounds very different.

    When people cry out “Do something!”, especially when it involves children, I’ll take a hashtag campaign over US military action. The former costs me nothing. The latter is very expensive.

    These are actual girls, real children, who were ripped from their families and are now in the hands of murderous Islamists.  There is nothing cute about comparing the anguish over their kidnapping to 4 seconds of “irony” from The Simpsons.

    • #9
  10. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    How many innocent people are you willing to kill to save these innocent people? Saying, “lets go get them” doesn’t mean you only get to shoot the bad guys and save the good guys.

    • #10
  11. user_1029039 Inactive
    user_1029039
    @JasonRudert

    Mike H:  How many innocent people are you willing to kill to save these innocent people? Saying, “lets go get them” doesn’t mean you only get to shoot the bad guys and save the good guys.

     Good point. A lot of what gets said on Ricochet with respect to foreign policy rests on an assumption of American military omnipotence. Not just having the most powerful military in the world, but actual omnipotence would be required to fix most of the things that Obama has been “too chicken” to get into.

    • #11
  12. Albert Arthur Coolidge
    Albert Arthur
    @AlbertArthur

    Fred Cole: When people cry out “Do something!”, especially when it involves children, I’ll take a hashtag campaign over US military action. The former costs me nothing. The latter is very expensive.

     And that’s why I think you’re an isolationist. 

    • #12
  13. user_240173 Contributor
    user_240173
    @FrankSoto

    Jason Rudert:

    Mike H: How many innocent people are you willing to kill to save these innocent people? Saying, “lets go get them” doesn’t mean you only get to shoot the bad guys and save the good guys.

    Good point. A lot of what gets said on Ricochet with respect to foreign policy rests on an assumption of American military omnipotence. Not just having the most powerful military in the world, but actual omnipotence would be required to fix most of the things that Obama has been “too chicken” to get into.

     It’s not that binary.  It isn’t omnipotence vs impotence.

    You are also not doing the calculation of how many lives are lost to future incidents when barbarians learn they can do this type of thing with impunity.

    • #13
  14. user_961 Member
    user_961
    @DuaneOyen

    Perfect for isolationists.  We should close down the Pentagon and replace it with a Social Media PR firm.  (under a minority/woman-owned set-aside, of course).

    • #14
  15. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Frank Soto:

    Jason Rudert:

    Mike H: How many innocent people are you willing to kill to save these innocent people? Saying, “lets go get them” doesn’t mean you only get to shoot the bad guys and save the good guys.

    Good point. A lot of what gets said on Ricochet with respect to foreign policy rests on an assumption of American military omnipotence. Not just having the most powerful military in the world, but actual omnipotence would be required to fix most of the things that Obama has been “too chicken” to get into.

    It’s not that binary. It isn’t omnipotence vs impotence.

    You are also not doing the calculation of how many lives are lost to future incidents when barbarians learn they can do this type of thing with impunity.

     But there’s no way to do that calculation. It’s like saying we must do something about climate change because there’s so much uncertainty about what might happen.

    • #15
  16. user_1029039 Inactive
    user_1029039
    @JasonRudert

    Frank Soto:

    It’s not that binary. It isn’t omnipotence vs impotence.

    You are also not doing the calculation of how many lives are lost to future incidents when barbarians learn they can do this type of thing with impunity.

     The Barbarians didn’t just discover barbarity last month. Look at Sudan, Rwanda, The Central African Republic, Liberia, etc. The barbarians have been getting away with this sort of thing with impunity, no less for some time. These are not, by any stretch, “our girls” and we will lose nothing by leaving Nigeria alone to its misery.

    • #16
  17. Sabrdance Member
    Sabrdance
    @Sabrdance

    I don’t particularly want to do anything about Boko Haram.  I am angry at what they’ve done, I don’t like them, and if it cost me nothing but the wave of my hand I would liberate those girls with said wave.  Hell, I’d even throw in “abra cadabra.”
     
    But from a political standpoint, this particular incident is an internal to Nigeria problem, and I don’t wish to insert the US into another civil war we barely understand.
     
    Given these views, I am not going to insult everyone, especially the parents of the actual girls about to be sold into slavery, by holding up a sign exhorting others to do what I am unwilling to do.  It is especially insulting to come from someone to who “a wave of the hand” is not a metaphor.  It is like having a doctor pass by a man hit by a car and say “you should see a doctor.”
     
    I would be fine with “Boko Haram is terrible.”  “Heartbreak” or some other expression of sympathy, I’d even accept “I feel your pain.”
     
    But when the white knight rides up and says “have you considered a hero?”
     
    Bah Humbug.

    • #17
  18. user_240173 Contributor
    user_240173
    @FrankSoto

    Jason Rudert:

    Frank Soto:

    It’s not that binary. It isn’t omnipotence vs impotence.

    You are also not doing the calculation of how many lives are lost to future incidents when barbarians learn they can do this type of thing with impunity.

    The Barbarians didn’t just discover barbarity last month. Look at Sudan, Rwanda, The Central African Republic, Liberia, etc. The barbarians have been getting away with this sort of thing with impunity, no less for some time. These are not, by any stretch, “our girls” and we will lose nothing by leaving Nigeria alone to its misery.

     Rudert,

    The barbarians are kept in check by fear of great powers and their retribution.  They don’t have to suddenly discover barbarity, they need only be allowed to do it for it to spring up like wild fire.

    • #18
  19. user_240173 Contributor
    user_240173
    @FrankSoto

    Mike H:

    Frank Soto:

    Jason Rudert:

    Mike H: How many innocent people are you willing to kill to save these innocent people? Saying, “lets go get them” doesn’t mean you only get to shoot the bad guys and save the good guys.

    Good point. A lot of what gets said on Ricochet with respect to foreign policy rests on an assumption of American military omnipotence. Not just having the most powerful military in the world, but actual omnipotence would be required to fix most of the things that Obama has been “too chicken” to get into.

    It’s not that binary. It isn’t omnipotence vs impotence.

    You are also not doing the calculation of how many lives are lost to future incidents when barbarians learn they can do this type of thing with impunity.

    But there’s no way to do that calculation. It’s like saying we must do something about climate change because there’s so much uncertainty about what might happen.

    There is no uncertainty that the European habit of paying pirates for hostages led to a massive increase in the incidents of piracy.  You don’t need exact numbers to see the obvious direction of the costs.

    Every future hostage taken is the fault of those who paid for the last one. Bullets to the heads of monster such as this reduces the appeal of engaging in this type of action.

    • #19
  20. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Chinese investment in Nigeria is currently around $1.7 billion. (US investment in Nigeria is around $5 billion.)

    Where’s the hashtag campaign to get China to “do something” about Boko Haram?

    Let’s say that China sent its special forces in to Nigeria and miraculously somehow managed to rescue all 200 girls with zero loss of innocent life.

    How do you think the US federal government would react to such an action? Applause for a job well done, or condemnation for violating Nigeria’s sovereignty?

    • #20
  21. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Frank Soto: Every future hostage taken is the fault of those who paid for the last one.

    The people paying for these 200 girls aren’t European governments.

    • #21
  22. user_240173 Contributor
    user_240173
    @FrankSoto

    Misthiocracy:

    Frank Soto: Every future hostage taken is the fault of those who paid for the last one.

    The people paying for these 200 girls aren’t European governments.

     I was specifically showing Mike H an example of how we can detect the long term costs of action versus inaction in a similar circumstance.  That paragraph was not directly a statement on the Nigeria situation.

    • #22
  23. Whiskey Sam Inactive
    Whiskey Sam
    @WhiskeySam

    The debate on whether to stage a rescue mission is a separate issue from whether a hashtag campaign is in itself harmless.  Violent Islamists are acting with impunity in that region of the world on a daily basis, and our response is to have women look sad and hold up signs asking them to stop being mean?  Are you kidding me?  If this is the best we can come up with, we truly are the emasculated society they think we are.  Better to say and do nothing than this flaccid response that makes us a laughingstock amongst our enemies.

    • #23
  24. Tommy De Seno Contributor
    Tommy De Seno
    @TommyDeSeno

    Who is she trying to cajole here?  Who is she trying to convince to help bring back the girls?   Why is she acting like some outside protester when she is on the inside with the man who holds more power to help than anyone?   If this were Laura Bush, the press would claim she is trying to embarrass her husband.

    • #24
  25. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    The hashtag campaign is aimed at one audience:  The under-informed voter.  It is all #2, appearing to do something, as outlined in the orignal post.

    Like most of this administrations actions on foreign policy, it is aimed solely at a domestic audience.  The rest of the world doesn’t matter, what matters is getting elected.

    • #25
  26. user_240173 Contributor
    user_240173
    @FrankSoto

    Whiskey Sam:

    The debate on whether to stage a rescue mission is a separate issue from whether a hashtag campaign is in itself harmless. Violent Islamists are acting with impunity in that region of the world on a daily basis, and our response is to have women look sad and hold up signs asking them to stop being mean? Are you kidding me? If this is the best we can come up with, we truly are the emasculated society they think we are. Better to say and do nothing than this flaccid response that makes us a laughingstock amongst our enemies.

     Agreed.  Silence would be vastly preferable to this.  You can still be perceived as tough if you appear to be callus and indifferent to what is happening.

    As it stands we just seem weak.  Perceived weakness is weakness when it comes to world powers.

    • #26
  27. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    Tommy De Seno:

    Who is she trying to cajole here? Who is she trying to convince to help bring back the girls? Why is she acting like some outside protester when she is on the inside with the man who holds more power to help than anyone? If this were Laura Bush, the press would claim she is trying to embarrass her husband.

     Exactly. When celebrities do this it is to get the government’s attention. When the White House does it, what is their goal? Or does Mrs. Obama believe that terrorists will see this and say, “You know, she does look pretty sad. Maybe we should just let the girls go and tweet back #sorry,my bad”.

    • #27
  28. Albert Arthur Coolidge
    Albert Arthur
    @AlbertArthur

    Jason Rudert: These are not, by any stretch, “our girls” and we will lose nothing by leaving Nigeria alone to its misery.

    Sabrdance: But from a political standpoint, this particular incident is an internal to Nigeria problem, and I don’t wish to insert the US into another civil war we barely understand.

    Boko Haram is a jihadist organization that is funded and armed in part by al Qaeda. We have a national interest in destroying Boko Haram.

    Frank Soto: There is no uncertainty that the European habit of paying pirates for hostages led to a massive increase in the incidents of piracy. You don’t need exact numbers to see the obvious direction of the costs.

     Exactly. We paid ransoms to the Barbary states for 20 years, and all along they were kidnapping our sailors. It wasn’t until we sent the Marines to Tripoli that they stopped.

    • #28
  29. user_1029039 Inactive
    user_1029039
    @JasonRudert

    Albert Arthur: Boko Haram is a jihadist organization that is funded and armed in part by al Qaeda. We have a national interest in destroying Boko Haram.

     But why are we going to be any better at that than we were at destroying the Taliban or any of al-Qaeda’s other branches?

    • #29
  30. user_358258 Member
    user_358258
    @RandyWebster

    My car had some cam pains a few years ago, but it go over them.

    • #30
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