Over the course of the last week the Invisible Children non-profit organization released a video on Youtube, Kony2012, that went absolutely viral. If you haven’t heard of it by now, I’m genuinely surprised. #StopKony and #MakeKonyFamous have constantly been trending on Twitter and the video has been making frequent appearances on my Facebook newsfeed ever since its release. The goal of the video is to raise awareness about Joseph Kony and his involvement in the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda. Since the mid-1980’s they have been abducting children from families and training them to be soldiers in their military. So why the fuss all of a sudden? I’m still a little unsure.
There are a few different ways to approach the Kony 2012 campaign. You can look at it as a positive way to raise awareness of an important social issue. Despite the fact that this has been going on for decades, many people had never heard of Kony before and through the Invisible Children’s video they have been exposed to a serious problem. The video evoked such a overwhelming positive response from audiences, reaching some 80 million views thus far.
It’s important to acknowledge the role of social media and networking in this spread of information. Through the use of sites like Twitter and Facebook, the campaign becomes easily accessible to the youth when raising awareness is as easy as clicking the “Share” button. Click. You’ve shared the link. You’ve tweeted the appropriate empowering message. You’ve bought the $10 Stop Kony Bracelet AND the $30 Kony 2012 Action Kit. There. You’ve done your civic duty to bring about awareness concerning a significant world issue. But therein lies a much deeper problem.
There’s this idea of collective action that allows individuals it possible to bring about social change by simply liking a status or sharing a video. Yes, it facilitates the spread of “knowledge” but what type and quality of knowledge is actually being spread? The video was successful in raising awareness, but if you look closer and do your research you’ll find there is much misinformation surrounding the entire campaign. Joshua Keating addresses some facts about Uganda and Kony that have been overlooked. For one, Joseph Kony and the LRA have been out of Uganda for some 6 years now. Keating goes on to say, “Additionally, the LRA (thankfully!) does not have 30,000 mindless child soldiers. This grim figure, cited by Invisible Children in the film (and by others) refers to the total number of kids abducted by the LRA over nearly 30 years.” They shaped the video to appeal to emotions and by capitalizing on numbers like these it has managed to do just that, as well as created a sort of hysteria. To some, this Kony 2012 video is simply a marketing ploy and a way to raise funds for the NGO (hence the bracelets and kits). It wouldn’t be the first time that the Invisible Children organization has faced critique concerning its financial spending and priorities. To others, Kony 2012 is the perfect depiction of the power of social media-based activism.
An anthropology professor of mine found the emergence of this campaign extraordinarily interesting, considering its being in existence for the past 15 years. When considering responses to the video, he found the Kony 2012 memes to be most interesting in understanding this phenomenon and the world’s perception of it.
It shows that we are able to be subjective and challenge the claims laid down by the video. Yet the memes (although serving comical purposes) also demonstrate various levels of ethnocentrism, racism, and technological superiority. For those that lack this ability to question motives, etc., the ability to separate fact from fiction would be nonexistent. The danger in this is that people can simply accept this unconditionally as the “truth” of the situation, unaware of the other variables that may contribute to the problem.
Personally, I remain on the fence about the campaign. I think it is fantastic that it was so successful in spreading a message and sharing information with the masses. But is it truly good if the information spread is misleading or potentially untrue? The video infected the population with a need to “do good” and collectively take part in a social movement. But how much can you truly do from behind a computer screen?
Other interesting blogs concerning Kony 2012:
- Elliot Ross http://africasacountry.com/2012/03/07/phony-2012-risible-children/ –
- Alan Greenblatt http://www.npr.org/2012/03/09/148305533/how-teenagers-learned-to-hate-joseph-kony