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Alone Together

Alone Together

“Alone Together.” Is there any better way to describe this moment in history?

As the wave of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic spreads across the globe, we are seeing whole societies and nations shut down and shut off human face-to-face interaction. In America, the jokes and funny memes have given way to a seriousness. Every hour more people are coming to the realization that everything has changed.

Three months ago, the conversations were completely different than they are today. I look back and recall having discussions about the pervasiveness of screen addiction and the challenge of too much social media and technology in our lives. I admit, I had a problem with screens, scrolling and such.

Today, my paradigm has shifted. My perspective has been stood on its head. Because of a tiny virus, we are experiencing what it means to be ‘Alone Together’.

Rather than focusing on fear and chaos, I’m looking for lessons and opportunities. I’m looking for new ways to ‘do life’ together in forced isolation.

How can we engage with this new reality without losing our minds? Or worse … How do we keep from losing our humanity?

The Negative

In 2012, MIT professor Sherry Turkle wrote a book entitled, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.

“Technology is seductive when what it offers meets our human vulnerabilities. And as it turns out, we are very vulnerable indeed. We are lonely but fearful of intimacy. Digital connections and the sociable robot may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other. We’d rather text than talk.”

– Sherry Turkle

I’d add that for millions of people, the spurious glitter of our technological goddess has answered our collective prayer. She says, “You want real isolation with your screens and social media? Your wish is my command!” And here we are, alone together with the goddess of our own making.  But, we’re left wanting and empty.

The New Reality

Due to the current state of the world, the illusions and fog blocking our view of reality is quickly evaporating. More and more people are realizing that human contact is more important than we thought. The status quo has been upended in a matter of weeks. As a good friend of mine said yesterday, “The gods of western culture like sports, media, corporate greed and entertainment have all bowed to the spirit of fear.” Entire nations are being brought to their knees. People are around the world are coming to grips with a new reality.  Many are fearful of what it all means.

The Opportunity

In this very moment, we all have a choice to make. We are alone together on this island, the boats have been burned. There is no way off. What shall we make of this? We cannot build boats out of ashes or memories. We must build here and now. What you do right now will shape the culture in the age to come. We can be selfish and ‘me-centered’ or we can engage in sometimes messy relationships with others.

When you strip all of the stuff away, what do you have left? A better questions is, WHO do you have left?

The Bible says, that we are individually significant and we have intrinsic value. In spite of what modern social constructionists and social engineers tell us how different we are, we are of one race – the human race. We must see what is good, true and beautiful held in both our unity and diversity as human beings. We were not created to be isolated. We were created for community. We are hardwired for relationship … as hard and painful as relationships can be at times. A life pursuing pleasures is empty and meaningless. Think about it. The good stuff is found in knowing and being known by others. Loving people over stuff that can’t love you back.

So What?

You have a choice today. How are you living? Take an entire day to consider what your life will look like a year from now or 5 years from now. Try to see yourself from a future perspective. Who do you want to be? Who do you want to invite into your life? Who needs you to step into their life today? Are you lonely? Isolated? I’m here. There are a bunch of us here. We have been waiting for you. We could use your help, your talents and gifts.

Action Steps … you don’t have anything better to do

Take the coming days and weeks to consider who is most important in your life… I promise, its not you! Reach out to that old friend you haven’t seen or spoken to since college or high school. I guarantee they will be overjoyed to hear from you. If they don’t answer the phone, leave them a voicemail letting them know you were thinking of them. And, God forbid we tell our friends and family we love them!  Write a letter to someone you love or a ‘thank you’ note to someone who impacted your life.

We were never meant to be ‘alone together’.

“The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.””(Genesis 2:18)

If you need prayer or have a comment, please reach out to me.

Remember, God loves you in spite of yourself (John 3:16).

Oh, and remember to wash your hands!


Read previous post: Google: Friend or Foe (3) – The unquenchable quest for more … of you
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Google: Friend or Foe (3) – The unquenchable quest for more … of you

Google: Friend or Foe (3) – The unquenchable quest for more … of you

Welcome to Part 3 of my blog series about Google. If you have not read my first post, I’d recommend reading Google: Friend or Foe Part 1 and 2 before continuing.

What type of threat do companies like Google pose?

First, I think one threat tech companies pose is rooted in their surveillance business models, data collection, in addition to outside business relationships with governments (foreign and domestic) and other third parties. How will they use data? We’ve already seen the privacy issues, subsequent lawsuits and investigations.

Case in point, ten years ago China executed a state-sponsored cyber attack against Google and other large businesses. Many believe the attack was a response to Google’s decision to stop offering their search engine in the Chinese market due to human rights concerns. In addition the totalitarian communist state wanted to censor, monitor and limit Google search results. This began an interesting relationship between Google and the NSA (National Security Agency).
[source link]

Once you investigate links with China, you will discover Google’s “Dragonfly” project. In a 2018, article from Just Security entitled, “Google’s Dragonfly: A Bellwether for Human Rights in the Digital Age”

“This “history” throws yesterday’s news about Google’s secret “Dragonfly” project, a search engine that will meet Beijing’s demands for censorship, into disturbing relief. Ever since 2010, the Chinese government has never quite gotten over the rebuke leveled against it by an uppity Western ICT company, which in retrospect clearly discredited the government on the world stage. Google took the type of action in support of human rights that few governments, let alone the private sector, would dare attempt. Of course, the Chinese government viewed the incident as a threat to regime control …. But, in the end, the Chinese government merely had to wait its challenger out, and all would be well.”

“Resisting no longer makes any business sense when the laws and policies of your country of origin and other active markets begin to resemble those of the country from which you withdrew.”
[source link]

On the home front, if you want to explore Google’s U.S. partnerships with government agencies, political groups, nonprofits and the like, check out their ‘Transparency’ page.
[source link]

Another interesting article was written by Harvard Law Review in 2018 entitled, “Cooperation or Resistance?: The Role of Tech Companies in Government Surveillance”
[source link]

Second, I think the biggest threat comes from the Social Engineering aspect of Google’s capabilities.

Remember, social engineering is used to manipulate people. When your platform is capable of shaping thought, behavior follows. Behind every artifact or innovation is a worldview – a philosophy of the person or group that created it. What is this artifact or innovation for? What is its purpose?

What is the dominant philosophy behind driving the current and future business model at Google? Does the philosophy view humans as dignified individuals or machines or something else? What are the political and economic philosophies expressed through search algorithms and social engineering.

Video: Dr. Robert Epstein answers questions from Senate Judiciary, Hearing on Google and Censorship

Everything is fine when the people at the top are of goodwill toward their fellow humans. However, when organizations and their partners become self-serving, abusive or tyrannical, a perceived threat becomes real. Individual lives and whole societies will be impacted.

I don’t think we fully understand the power and implications of these technologies.

When a company makes profits by collecting, organizing and manipulating the personal data of billions of people we must attempt to understand potential threats and risks involved. In the wrong hands, these powerful tools can cause great harm or be misused to the detriment of humanity.

At the end of the day, Google is able to curate your internet experience to the places Google wants you to go. It controls what you see and what you don’t see. In other words, Google can herd people where they want them to go through powerful algorithms. Because Google has millions of data points on billions of individuals, Google’s powerful AI (Artificial Intelligence) technology can predict your behavior with creepy accuracy. If Google can tell you where to find the information you think you are looking for but Google wants to to see and what to buy, it can tell you what to say and think. It already does.

Without anyone knowing, Google is shaping the worldview of billions of people. The question is what is the shape of the worldview Google intends for users? How will Google treat worldviews that counter it’s own? Shaping thought can be beneficial but that is what parents, teachers, mentors, artists and leaders do – not tech companies.

The First of the Ten Commandments is; “…You shall have no other gods before me”. After digging into the tech giant’s business model, activates, partnerships and philosophy, I believe Google’s first commandment is “You shall have no other gods but Google.” Think about it.

After reading this series of posts, are you seeing a general theme?

What can we do about it?

  1. Don’t just take my word for it, do your own research.
  2. Take a technology inventory. List all of the technology devices and platforms connected to you and your family.
  3. Take Steps to protect online privacy for you and your family. Seven Simple Steps Toward Online Privacy
  4. Be vigilant – Don’t allow the lure of convenience to overrule your personal convictions in regard to technology.

Read previous post: Google: Friend or Foe – Part 2
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Google: Friend or Foe (2) – human data-trafficking

Google: Friend or Foe (2) – human data-trafficking

Welcome to Part 2 of my blog series about Google. If you have not read my first post, I’d recommend reading Google: Friend or Foe Part 1 before continuing. Part 2 builds on the foundation of my previous post.

I think the best way to understand “What Google is actually doing?” is to see that  Google is in the “thought-shaping” and digital human data-trafficking business.

When an organization’s stated mission is to “organize the world’s information”, we know that based on what Google does with information tells us more about the purpose. Information shapes thought. Thought and beliefs drive behavior. Therefore, I submit that Google is shaping thoughts of billions of people and by extension, driving behavior. But, to what end?

What is Google actually doing?

YouTube, AdSense, FitBit, Nest, DoubleClick and over 200 others are not the end of Google’s reach. Google is a major stake holder and data repository for genetics-testing company 23andMe. Seems harmless enough. However, 23andMe is partnered with big pharma drug giant Gloxo-Smith-Kline for research into disease using data collected. Most 23andMe customers are unaware of this. [source link]

“In its filing, Google also noted that Anne Wojcicki is a co-founder of 23andMe and is a member of the board of directors. Wojcicki is married to Sergey Brin, Google’s president of technology and company co-founder. The search giant also outlined other intertwined relationships beyond Brin and Wojcicki: Sergey also holds approximately 35 percent of Google’s Class B common stock. Prior to Google’s investment in 23andMe, Sergey provided approximately $2.6 million in interim debt financing to 23andMe…” [source link]

In other words, Google is interested in genetic data on millions of people. That’s of interest to me.

Google surveillance in your home

On the home front, Google’s purchase of Nest is an interesting play. Nest is well known for their ‘smart’ thermostats and ‘user-friendly’ security camera systems for homes and businesses. What is not so well known is Google placing microphones on their in-home ‘smart’ thermostats. Apparently, Nest ‘forgot’ to include the one feature most people concerned about privacy care about on their product feature list for in-home thermostats – a microphone. [source link]

Of course, there is Google Home, a virtual assistant similar to Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri.  These devices are constantly monitoring or ‘listening’.

Additionally, Google has filed a few interesting patents. Perhaps, ‘invasive’ is a better descriptor. These new technologies use artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze other technologies inside the home, clothing, chemicals and even voices in your home. [source link]

Google made inroads into the smart phone market. It’s Android mobile operating system has dominated the mobile market. Its devices are cheap and come loaded with Google apps. The Android operating system is collecting data on users who may not use Google’s other products or platforms. There are 2 Billion Android users worldwide as of 2017. [source link]

Google surveillance at your child’s school

Google also launched it’s Google ChromeBook, cloud-based personal computing hardware. It’s also very cheap but you’re locked into Google’s offerings with the device. The key to understand its growing pervasiveness in schools is knowing that the low price-point is a strategy to gain marketshare and essentially aimed at data collection. If a child is forced by his school to use a Google ChromeBook, he is being groomed to grant access to his data to a tech giant for life. How will that data be used?

Google is being sued in New Mexico for collecting and misusing data on children who are required to use ChromeBooks in schools. [source link]

The growing ‘tech in the classroom’ or “edtech” industry is worth BILLIONS of dollars. So, there is a huge push by big tech to cram as much technology as possible into classrooms and homes in the name of “better education.” There’s little to no research supporting the pervasive use of tech in the classroom is beneficial. In fact studies are proving that “the digital interface does not stimulate the brain as well as an analog interface. Off-loading the cognitive effort that makes critical brain connections stronger is like paying someone else to do your exercise for you.”

Remember, this is a profit-centered approach, not a student-centered approach.

Google surveillance on the school bus?

“In places such as Hot Springs, Va., Alphabet Inc.’s Google has wired school buses, turning them into rolling study halls for students with long commutes and sometimes patchy or nonexistent Wi-Fi at home. Google says the program, a pilot which is in 15 school districts in 13 states, will be funded at least through the end of this school year.” [source link]

Google surveilling your location, email, documents, photos and network

Google Maps was the best free mobile GPS system available… until Waze was introduced and began giving Google Maps a run for their money. Google acquired Waze for nearly a $1 Billion before Apple or another competitor could buy them. [source link]

All of this and more on top of the world’s most powerful search engine and email client used (Gmail[source link].  While most know that Google stores personal data related to search, few are aware that Google is collecting data from Gmail accounts. [source link]

Google Docs is popular for document storage and search capabilities. Google Photos platform receives 1.4 Billion uploads per day by users. Let’s not forget Google Fiber (broadband internet and IPTV).

Are you starting to see a pattern? A good detective identifies behavior patterns. Patterns lead to evidence.

Google may have begun with good intentions but as I have demonstrated they have followed a path of bad actions that are a cause for concern.

BTW. None of this has gone unnoticed by the Feds, the U.S. Department of Justice has ramped up it’s investigation into this tech behemoth. [source link]

Why do companies like Google and Facebook offer their products for free or cheap?  Because their surveillance business model turns the user into the “product” they can sell.  Google and Facebook are in the ‘Digital Human data-trafficking” business.  They manipulate people and sell the digital profiles of billions of people.  They surveil you and sell everything they know about you to the highest bidder … and you let them.

In my next post, we’ll talk about the type of threat companies like Google pose and what can we do about it.  

Stay tuned!

Reference note: Much of my interest and research in this section was initiated from a podcast of the Bill Walton Show Episode 63: Part 2- The Power to Re-engineer Humanity


Read previous post: Google: Friend or Foe – Part 1
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Google: Friend or Foe? (1)

Google: Friend or Foe? (1)

It all started when I learned how technology and social media were being used by pimps to manipulate and lure children into exploitation and trafficking.

As I learned more about platforms like Facebook, SnapShat, Instagram, etc., I ended up taking a deep-dive into the technologies and companies that power the massive engine we call the ‘internet’.  To borrow an idea from the film ‘The Matrix’, I took the red pill which leads to truth.  I’m interested in following the path that leads to the truth of a matter.

“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

– Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) – The Matrix

The joke I hear often is, “Google is listening” to you. As we nervously laugh, we have to wonder, “To what extent is Google actually listening and why?”

I decided to research Google for three reasons. First, I’m concerned about privacy and data collection.  Second, I am concerned what kind of tech-infused world my children will be living in.  Third, I believe its beneficial for sensible intelligent people to learn and share regarding this topic. I invite you to join me as we explore Google if not for anything else than raising awareness. I will share my findings in the next series of posts.

If Google and other powerful technology platforms are “listening or tracking” you or to put another way, “gathering data on users”, we have to ask “why?” What is the purpose?

The short and benign answer most people give is that Google and other tech platforms are selling targeted ads to companies that want to sell us their products. However, recent data and user privacy investigations indicate something more going on.

Here are some questions to consider:

What is Google?
What are Google’s motives?
What is Google’s strategy?
What is Google actually doing?
What type of threat do companies like Google pose, if any?
What can we do about it?

What is Google?

To the general public, Google is the most powerful search engine in the world. It is. But, it is more than that. Google and its parent company Alphabet Inc. are active in multiple tech industries: internet technology and networks, cloud computing, computer software, computer hardware, artificial intelligence (AI), consumer services, security and advertising. Within these industries Google and it’s parent company Alphabet Inc. have made over 230 acquisitions since 2001.

Alphabet Inc. is the biggest company in the world. It is worth $1.2 TRILLION. It is also one of the most powerful influencers in the world.

What is Google’s philosophy?

“Don’t be Evil” is the tech giant’s motto. However, evil at its simplest meaning is the absence of good. I use the analogy, that darkness is the absence of light. In order to know what is evil, one must understand what is good. I argue that good leads to human flourishing, beauty, justice, health, unity, security and peace. Evil is everything that distorts or departs from good. In the final analysis, “Don’t be Evil” is a poor choice for a motto or way of doing business because you are framing your business philosophy around avoiding the “absence of good.” Perhaps, “Be Good” would be a better vision for Google?

The answer to “What is Google?” gets clearer as we explore their businesses and observe their behavior. This is where things get a bit more interesting and concerning.

Next, let’s explore motives. Motives reveal a lot about character traits, worldview and beliefs of individuals as well as organizations. Keep in mind, behavior (actions) can affirm or betray stated values or mission. In other words, to the extent your actions deviate from your stated mission or values give evidence of your lack of integrity, misrepresentation or ill-intent. If a company states a value of honesty and they fudge on their financials, they are not holding true to their stated value of honesty. They are being dishonest.

What are Google’s motives?

According to Harvard behavioral psychologist and tech research scientist Dr. Robert Epstein, Google has three motives.

1. Profit
2. Social Engineering
3. Government Partnerships (military, intelligence, law enforcement – both domestic and international)

The first motive is pretty straight forward, publicly traded companies exist to generate profits for shareholders. I have no problem with companies legitimately generating profits. Legitimate profit-making is a good thing. Provide a good product or service and get paid fairly for it. Great!

Its the second motive that should be explored, investigated and discussed. Social Engineering is the process used to manipulate the behavior of individual humans and groups. Basically, social engineering can be used to get you to click on an ad, buy a product, go to a political rally or watch a certain video, etc. It can also used to manipulate people.

The third motive is complex and very concerning, Government Partnerships.  Frankly, I don’t have the expertise to completely dissect it but we’ll touch on it later.

In my next post, we’ll put Google on trial and look at their claims, the evidence and their behavior.

Google: Friend or Foe (Part 2) – Human Data-Trafficking

 


Read previous post: Is There Anybody Out There?
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Is there anybody out there?

Is there anybody out there?

“Is there anybody out there?”

The band, Pink Floyd made this question famous on their 1979 album, “The Wall”. Under the haunting drones of synth chords and samples from the TV series, Gunsmoke, the listener is confronted with the question, “Is there anybody out there?” The question is repeated as the melancholy of the soundscape rises and finally breaks into a ethereal acoustic guitar melody accompanied by lonely violin. It provides some relief but not quite enough. The question still lingers about the mind, “Is there anybody out there?” It’s truly a genius two and a half minutes of music.

In the Pink Floyd movie “The Wall” this song plays at the point where the bitter and alienated Pink (the main character) is attempting to reach anybody outside of his self-built wall. The repeated question “Is there anybody out there?” suggests that no response is heard (1).

I remember back to my music and DJ days when I would be in the DJ booth playing records to a packed club of hundreds of people, yet there was an underlying sense of alienation. I could see people around me – but why does the question still gnaw at my soul? “Is there anybody out there?”  Does anyone even care?

There have been seasons in my life when I’ve felt alone. Even when I had family and friends around, I suffered from disconnectedness. At points, this lead to depression and anxiety. Its hard recognize from the outside. By God’s grace and the love of family and friends, I don’t suffer like I did so many years ago. However, there are shadows of how I felt in those seasons that remain as a remembrance. I think it is important that I remember rather than forget what it’s like to feel alone. There can be no deep ministry to others without memories of our own misery.

Today, many people feel alienated and lonely in our technology-driven, pseudo-connected, over-stimulated, hyper-autonomous and instant gratification-focused cultural moment. We’ve relegated our relationships and existence to online platforms, how can we not be driven to alienation?

I think a dangerous new religion is emerging in the West. It’s called Alienation.

It has its own doctrines of disconnect and loneliness. We carry our slick, shiny, flat-screened idols in our hands all day. It’s sacraments are dopamine drips through a communion of ‘likes’ and screen scrolling. It’s worship is seen on the altar where authentic human relationships go to be sacrificed. Alienation has its own cathedrals built for one. It has its own hymns and liturgy and even ideology and emerging politics. The enlightened state of the religion of alienation is loneliness and ultimately, despair. This despair brings some to their own end at their own hands – the ultimate sacrifice.

“Contemporary man is alienated. He is alienated from the past because he has no cultural roots anymore. He’s been taught to despise the past. He is alienated from a real vibrant society – his social ties are thin and few. That shows up in his sexual habits which seem to have no meaning beyond that of the pleasure or the despair of the moment. He has very little connection with the natural world – the outside world.

 

A lot of people out there are intensely lonely.”

Anthony Esolen

Is there anybody out there?

If I could jump into Pink Floyd’s 1979 masterpiece, I would add one three letter word at the end… “Yes!”

Yes, there is someone out there, just like you. In fact millions, just like you. Human beings all over our world just wanting to connect in an authentic and meaningful way. But how do we overcome alienation that has become so pervasive?

It starts with a light switch. We begin by turning on the lights in the dark room for those who are lonely so they can see that there are others in the room.

We must recognize alienation and loneliness and label them as enemies of what is good, true and beautiful about the human experience. Humans are hardwired to connect with others. When humans don’t have connections, they can’t live meaningful lives of vibrance. We need relationships – we need each other. Our creator designed us to be in relationship.

We must restore what has been lost in this current lonely age.

If we do nothing, I fear that history will see this chapter as the loneliest  in western culture. It doesn’t have to be this way. But it starts with you and me. Whether its the kitchen, the campfire or the nursing home on the holidays, we must be intentional about bringing life back to life. We bring hope and connection to the lonely lives of others and ourselves.

Restoration overcomes alienation. We must work to rescue one another from the cold grip of loneliness and despair.  We restore lives through relationships.

To the haunting voice that asks, “Is there anybody out there?” We must break through self-built walls and shout, “Yes, we are here!” and “You are not alone!”  and “God loves you and so do we!”

Now, go and do. The cure for alienation is real-life personal connection. That connection needs to be restored.

“And he (God) made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’…” (Acts 17:26-28a)

The Bible says, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
“It is the law of the cross, it is a sacrificial law. Christ gives rest to the heart by giving burdens to the shoulders. And, as a matter of fact, it is in being burdened that we usually find rest… Heavy luggage is a cure for weary hearts.” So, we must bear each other’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
– F.W. Boreham

(1) quote taken from Wikipedia 

Resources:
[Podcast] Restoring a Christian Culture – An Interview with Anthony Esolen


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Hashtag Culture – A better way

Hashtag Culture – A better way

When something bad happens, you will see #hashtags rise like bubbles in a glass of soda.

Today, the path of least resistance is to get emotional, post a hashtag and move on. There is no follow through.  There is no justice.

Hashtags can be detrimental to a cause if used improperly
When influential people, particularly political types begin using hashtag and memes, it communicates that someone is actually doing something about a problem. The problem is nothing is actually done.  It gives the appearance of action without any substantive action.

In 2014, the terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped 300 girls from their boarding school in Nigeria.  Famously, the “Chibok Girls” became known around the world. It appears everyone was speaking out and demanding their freedom. This is a healthy response to injustice.

A few weeks later, like the bubbles in the glass of soda – the outrage and hashtags vanished.

What ended up happening?
Essentially nothing. Boko Haram, the media and others exploited the girls. Were they released? Nope. Four years later, over 200 girls are languishing in the hands of terrorists. In addition, Boko Haram is holding hundreds of other children captive that are not counted with the Chibok Girls. What about them? Where is their hashtag?

The problem with a “#hashtag” movement is that it is all about emotion, it contains no plan and no perseverance. There is no real commitment because the hashtag itself is transient and short-lived by design.

Hashtags are created to trend on social media until they are knocked off the top by other trendier hashtags.

Not all hashtags are bad. However, if you want to create a movement, don’t make the hashtag the main driver. A hashtag is a spark.

If you want to drive cultural change or advocate for the freedom of the Chibok Girls, you better have a ton of fuel to keep the fire burning until the objective is realized. It may take months or years. Nothing good comes easy. How committed are you?

A better way:

Build your tribe, plan your mission and pursue your cause relentlessly. When you’ve made some decent progress, add a hashtag.

 

Note regarding image: I believe First Lady Michelle Obama’s response to the kidnapping of the Chibok Girls in 2014 was a healthy and good response to this injustice.  However, it indicated something was being done at the top of the international power structure.  We all failed to follow through in fighting for their freedom.


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