By Elizabeth Williamson, Natalie Andrews and Michael M. Phillips
It is an irresistible story line: An American mom hears of terrible wrongs done to poor girls the age of her own
daughter in a faraway land, then galvanizes social media, prompting the U.S. to act.
Soon, first lady Michelle Obama is holding up a placard with the maternal cry for help: #BringBackOurGirls.
But the real tale of how a Twitter hashtag grew into a rallying call for more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls
kidnapped by the Boko Haram terrorist group is a more complex web.
In her online biography and in interviews on CNN and ABC, Ramaa Mosley has portrayed herself as a mother who until
recently "didn't even know what a hashtag was." She said that two weeks ago, she was moved to tears by a brief radio
broadcast about the mid-April abductions in Nigeria, and adapted the cries of the girls' mothers into the hashtag
"I quickly noticed there that there was no social media presence, no petitions, no action cry. So pathetically I
set out to create a Facebook page and Twitter account for the cause...then I began tweeting and hashtagging one
particular phrase #bringbackourgirls," she said in an April 30 message about herself on her Facebook page.
In fact, Ms. Mosley also helped direct the film "Girl Rising," a well-received documentary about the global
struggle to educate girls, and her effort to draw attention to the kidnappings is part of a push by The Documentary
Group, a for-profit company, to promote the project world-wide.
CNN Films paid $500,000 last year for three years' rights to the film, and will air it again on CNN International
CNN had no comment.
The "Bring Back Our Girls" hashtag--retweeted nearly two million times so far by Twitter users including the
Vatican, the first lady and celebrities including singers Mary J. Blige and Chris Brown--wasn't created by Ms. Mosley
but by Nigerian Ibrahim Musa Abdullahi, a 35-year-old attorney in the capital Abuja who adapted a chant he heard on
television there. This week, Twitter users began calling attention to that fact in a storm of angry tweets to Ms.
Ms. Mosley said in an interview on Thursday that she didn't take credit for the hashtag: "The idea that people are
so upset has been a complete shock....I felt compelled to help spread the word."
She said she thinks she became the face of the cause in the media because "we don't have photos of the [Nigerian]
girls so the media in the United States has picked up on this as a human-interest story and attached me to it."
On Thursday, after receiving a call from The Wall Street Journal and noting the adverse Twitter reaction to its
story, ABC deleted the headline "Los Angeles Mother of Two Creates Viral Hashtag" and posted an editor's note that read:
"This story has been updated to reflect that #BringBackOurGirls appeared on Twitter prior to Ramaa Mosley's first
An ABC spokeswoman had no further comment.
Holly Gordon, founder of the Girl Rising project, said in an interview on Thursday that the Nigeria kidnappings
provide "an important moment for us to promote our film."
Ms. Gordon said Ms. Mosley's idea for her social-media campaign was solely her own, and Girl Rising helped her to
expand her social-media network by linking to its own.
The company said it designed the distinctive red avatar Ms. Mosley used on her social-media pages, and supplied her
with "talking points" on girls' education.
Ms. Mosley on Thursday said she updated her Twitter account biography to reflect her involvement with Girl Rising,
and sent a series of tweets giving credit for the hashtag to its Nigerian creators.
The viral campaign has succeeded in drawing global attention to the Nigerian girls' plight.
On Wednesday, Mrs. Obama tweeted "Our prayers are with the missing Nigerian girls and their families. It is time to
#BringBackOurGirls," with a photograph of the first lady holding up a handmade sign with the hashtag. It was retweeted
more than 47,000 times.
The signature hashtag, which allows Twitter users world-wide to find like-minded people, had its origins in Abuja.
On April 23, Mr. Abdullahi was at home watching a televised broadcast of the opening celebration of Port Harcourt's year
as the United Nations' world book capital.
One speaker, former World Bank Vice President Obiageli Ezekwesili, took to the stage and helped lead the crowd in a
chant of "Bring back our daughters."
Mr. Abdullahi had just a few hundred Twitter followers, but he is an enthusiastic tweeter. So, on April 23, he
modified the slogan to "bring back our girls" and tweeted: "Yes #BringBackOurDaughters #BringBackOurGirls declared by @
obyezeks and all people at Port Harcourt World Book Capital 2014."
"I don't have a daughter so I thought it would be better to make it girls," Mr. Adbullahi said in an interview from
Abuja on Thursday.
It was retweeted just 95 times. But one of those came from Ms. Ezekwesili, who has more than 125,000 followers.
She quickly adopted the hashtag and urged people to use it. She tweeted: "Lend your Voice to the Cause of our
Girls. Please All, use the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls to keep the momentum UNTIL they are RESCUED."
The message soon took on a life of its own.
On April 23, the British Guardian newspaper published an article that was shared more than 35,000 times on Facebook
and tweeted more than 3,500 times.
The biggest boost, according to Topsy social-media analytics, came on April 30, when Mr. Brown--the performer who
pleaded guilty in 2009 to assaulting his girlfriend, Rihanna, the singer--tweeted the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag.
But soon it was CNN leading the charge. The top #BringBackOurGirls tweets for four of the first five days of May
were all from CNN-related accounts.
The Girl Rising film and awareness effort are widely hailed. The project was financed by contributions from
corporations led by Intel Corp., private philanthropists, foundations and ticket sales.
Ms. Mosley, 38 years old, has been with The Documentary Group's Girl Rising project "from the very beginning," in
2007, said Ms. Gordon, and directed the Afghanistan chapter of the film, which covers girls' education issues in nine
Ms. Gordon said the budget for the film was $10 million: $3.7 million for production costs, and the remainder for
the "campaign," a global effort to highlight the challenges facing young women in developing nations by screening the
film in venues including theaters and nonprofit meetings, along with creating short-subject films for nongovernmental
organizations working on such issues as childhood marriage in Ethiopia.
The project's first and one of its biggest funders is Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen, through his Vulcan
Productions. Mr. Allen and his sister Jody Allen are the film's executive producers.
Vulcan funded the film because of Mr. Allen's interest in alleviating global poverty, and has also provided media
and promotional expertise.
"We know that if you educate one girl you can break the cycle of global poverty in one generation," said Carole
Tomko, Vulcan's creative director and general manager. "That community we created and united for change are coming
together and doing everything they can do to get these girls released."
To the degree that Ms. Mosley initially didn't disclose her involvement in Girl Rising, "That would be unfortunate,
because she's a fantastic storyteller and she just wants to bring those girls home, too," Ms. Tomko said.
Peter Nicholas and Drew Hinshaw contributed to this article.
Write to Elizabeth Williamson at firstname.lastname@example.org and Michael M. Phillips at email@example.com
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