Girl in viral #BringBackOurGirls photo is neither kidnapped nor Nigerian

The photographer who took the photo has set out to correct the misappropriation of her image. The Nigerian man who initially combined the photo with the hashtag says he meant no harm.


The world on Monday morning may have gotten a look at about 130 of the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. The group released a video in which it announced it was willing to release the girls in exchange for prisoners. In that video, people familiar with the social media campaign advocating for the girls’ release, which uses the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag, won’t see the face that most associate with the campaign. That’s because the girl in the widely spread photo isn’t one of the kidnapped girls; she isn’t even Nigerian. Celebrities and thousands of others have been tweeting the image for more than a week. Mashable reports that the image is of Jenabu Balde, a girl from Guinea-Bissau on Africa’s western coast. The photo comes from the website of the Alexia Foundation, a photojournalism organization. The photographer, Ami Vitale, is trying to correct the misappropriation. “I support the campaign completely, and I would do anything to bring attention to the situation. It’s a beautiful campaign that shows the power of social media. This is a separate issue,” she told Mashable. “This is about misrepresentation.” The Alexia Foundation published a statement Friday about the photo. The statement says, in part:

No one should take a photograph from anywhere they find it to use it as they want. They shouldn’t. In most circumstances, legally they cannot. What is egregious, however, in this situation is the misrepresentation.

The Nigerian man who Photoshopped Vitale’s photo to add the hashtag, creative director Emmanuel Hephzibah, said he didn’t mean any harm. “I was crying out so that our voice could be heard in Nigeria, because it seems our government was not ready to take any action,” he said. “I credited the source of the image as AlexiaFoundation.org.” Vitale has asked Hephzibah to remove posts with the image in them, but it has spread so widely on the Web that’s nearly impossible to do. It seems that, at least for some social media users, Balde is simply going to be the face of a crisis she had nothing to do with.

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