In a controversial move, Michelle Obama replaced her husband for the first time in the weekly presidential address to express outrage at the kidnapping of over 200 Nigerian schoolgirls by the terrorist group, Boko Haram. Soon after, a photo of the first lady emerged on social media holding a sign with the twitter hashtag “ #BringBackOurGirls.” Not long after this, celebrities followed suit and joined the campaign first started by a Nigerian lawyer Ibrahim M. Abdullahi, on April 23rd.

Though twitter can be an important tool for spreading awareness and mobilising people for social justice causes, something is lost, it must be said, in cyber-space. Apart from being practically effort-free, these “hashtag revolutions” do not engage directly with the complexity of real world issues, often reducing them to a catchphrase or trend. True, social media is the living-room protestor’s dream; allowing interaction between people thousands of miles apart as they unite over one issue armed with their PC’s and laptops, in the comfort of their homes. And though this can mobilise into real movements, what does the hassle free world of social media, littered with hashtags, really achieve in terms of material results? Without street power, how do you quantify twitter-power? And does it count for as much? Can it create the pressure street protests can? Outside the scope of awareness and debate, does it help the cause it is protesting for? Will this virtual and distant activism replace street protests? There is something to be said for people congregating in one physical space, taking to the streets and being visible. It is powerful in a way a hashtag revolution cannot be.

Though twitter has its real merits, and provides a safe platform in countries like Pakistan to raise dangerous issues like blasphemy and Baloch rights, can a profound tweet get the same reaction as a demonstration outside Parliament, with people braving discomfort to stand up for what they believe? If activists care enough about an international issue, perhaps the real pressure-putting tactic involves more than a camera and a wi-fi password.