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#MissingDCGirls: Social Media Shouldn’t Have to Fill These Giant Societal Holes

By mid-March, nearly a dozen black and Latinx teenagers went missing in Washington DC. Of the hundreds of missing juveniles reports–many of them young women of color–it’s being reported that 22 of them remain unsolved. Reported by whom? Well, until recently (very recently, like, today), practically no one. On March 12th, The Root published an article asking “Does Anyone Care About DC’s Missing black and Latinx Teens?” And, at the time, the answer, horribly, seemed to be no. This was getting no coverage from major media outlets. Amber Alerts weren’t being issued for the teens.

Tragically, this lack of attention isn’t unusual when it comes to young, missing WOC. Gwen Ifill coined the name for the idea of the “Missing White Woman Syndrome,” which addresses “the media’s fascination with missing women who are white, young, pretty, and often from middle- or upper-class backgrounds, and media’s simultaneous apparent lack of regard for those who do not fit this description.” When a young woman who fits that description goes missing, you see her face; you know her name. She has laws and movements named after her. The same is not true, in general, for black and Latinx girls.

Unless you followed the DC Police Department on Twitter (and even then, it wasn’t all that likely), you had next to no chance of hearing anything at all about these missing girls until that article from the Root gained traction, along with a few similar pieces from similar outlets specifically geared towards audiences of color or teenage girls (like Teen Vogue), and a tweet from @BlackMarvelGirl went viral.

A hashtag isn’t enough to actually fix many problems, but for anyone claiming they, and social media itself, is pointless, without #MissingDCGirls rising to trending status on Twitter, I can’t imagine that many of us would know about these girls today. It’s directly in front of our own eyes online, and major outlets like NBC and FoxNews have finally picked up the story. That coverage is essential in finding some of these girls, and it’s shameful that we’re letting this job of educating the public and protecting children fall to Twitter.

There is too much news for any one outlet to cover, maybe even for all outlets to cover. But this isn’t even a matter of paying attention to the health care vote and paying attention to missing girls. What that “Missing White Woman Syndrome” gets at is the idea that even without health care and a hundred bonkers POTUS tweets, major outlets still wouldn’t be reporting on these missing girls. Not without a ton of pushing from the general public. And Twitter is great for that, for showing widespread, vocal interest or support (or dissent). But major media outlets need to be looking at how an innate bias against news like this comes to be, how it goes unchecked, and how it influences the stories being chosen to tell.

It would also be nice if we heard a word from all those people always claiming they believe all lives matter.

If you have any information on any of the youths missing in DC, please call The Metropolitan Police Department at 202-727-9099.

(image via Metro Police)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.