What do you think of the Kony 2012 video? In the second of Article 27′s new series of Comment pieces, Campaigner Lucy Greenwood digs deeper into the online phenomon.
Yesterday afternoon, the mysterious words ‘Kony 2012’ suddenly appeared everywhere, in my Facebook newsfeed, things about invisible children in my Twitter feed. What is this? Has there been another Republican candidate announced for the US 2012 election, one that is being enthusiastically championed by P Diddy, Oprah AND Justin Bieber? It was also mentioned by my Dad who had heard Kony discussed on Radio 4, and later my friends were talking about Kony in the pub. I received an invitation to join an event in Bristol in the name of setting a precedent for international justice, evoking images of attractively dressed hipsters, conspicuously wanting to appear inconspicuous, like ‘Invisible Children’, even. “Join us to poster up Bristol on the 20th of April, when we cover the night. We will blanket every street until the sun comes up. We will be smart, and we will be thorough.” Wow I thought, this is big. And then I watched the long 30 minute video; the end could not come soon enough.
At the start of the video, you are told that the next 27 minutes is an experiment where you have to pay attention for it to work. This request of 27 minutes of my time I thought was a bad start. It quickly went from bad to feeling like an emotional assault on the senses. Babies were being born, images of dead children, images of Hitler, images of stern teenagers dressed in American Apparel, images of the nauseatingly smug Jason Russell and his child who is about to tell it like it is, all to the sound of, erm, Mumford and Sons.
Jason announces evangelically that he is here to do a job because of “the course of his life.” That job is to stop Joseph Kony, because he made a promise to his friend Jacob Acaye, a young African man who tragically lost his brother to the LRA. Jason Russell then wheels out his 4 year old son and explains that Joseph Kony is a “bad guy” who kidnaps children and forces them to “do bad things.” The child nods sagely and says “it is sad”. He then tells us that 300,000 children have been taken to be in Kony’s army that forces the boys to be soldiers that kill their parents and the girls to be sex slaves.
This must be stopped, is the message, and the only way to solve the problem is by finding and stopping Kony. This will be done by making him famous, as famous as George Clooney. Thirty ‘culture makers’ including Bono, Angelina Jolie and twelve policy makers are identified as targets by the campaign. Finally, an unknown American teenager is telling us all to “go out there and rock it” while dubstep plays in the background. By this point, I really wished I had watched it while playing the KONY 2012 drinking game.
The video was created by the charity Invisible Children and since yesterday, so much has been written about Kony 2012, with not all of it being very sensible. Invisible Children’s Kony video has become a perfect example of internet mass hysteria, and it is important to call it that because in the short life of the internet, we are still discovering what the consequences are when things go viral. In an attempt to gain some perspective, here are some of the more useful things I’ve read on the internet about the Kony 2012 campaign that lets us look at the issue in its full picture:
1) “Joseph Kony is not in Uganda and hasn’t been for 6 years, and at only 15:01 in the video is the fact briefly mentioned that the Lord’s Resistance Army are no longer operating in Uganda. ForeignPolicy.com Guest post: Joseph Kony is not in Uganda (and other complicated things)
2) Invisible Children has been described as ‘misleading,’ ‘naive,’ and ‘dangerous’ and “manipulating facts for strategic purposes.” Additionally, Invisible Children has a low two-star rating in accountability from Charity Navigator because they won’t let their finances be independently audited. The Daily What: KONY 2012
3) “Stopping Kony won’t change any of these things, and if more hardware and money flow to Museveni’s military, Invisible Children’s campaign may even worsen some problems.” Michael Wilkerson on ForeignPolicy.com
4) This damningly vitriolic and powerfully written post on Reddit Politics argues that actually, the current President of Uganda, Museveni, has killed just as many – if not more people in Uganda than Kony and his army, and relates the feeling in Uganda that Invisible Children are working with the Ugandan Government. The post by Amber Ha goes on to assert that Invisible Children are doing more harm than good with their campaign video, described as ‘propaganda’, by bringing the LRA back into Uganda and violence along with it.
There are many NGOs, and most are very small and rely on modest donations in order to operate. Social networking has been a well deserved gift to the not-for-profit sector because it is a practically free means of galvanising support for campaigns. Suddenly, you can create your own media instead of depending on the fickle whims of established journalism. The internet is instant, people can see support for campaigns growing and it can create positive feelings of solidarity in the online community, that has come to exist over the last few years.
With this in mind, there are many effective online campaigning groups that think very carefully about being responsible for providing correct and accurate information about their campaigns. They take seriously their responsibility to tell the whole, accurate picture: I believe that Kony 2012 has failed with that task. Instead when watching the video, we lose track of the story and we are overwhelmed with sensationalism and guilt. After watching the video, it is disappointing to learn (from other more reliable sources than celebrities’ twitter feeds) many of the facts of the video are misleading or inaccurate. What is also disappointing is that Jacob’s harrowing testimony seems to only be briefly touched upon, which is a shame as it is his emotive story that is one of the few parts within the video that is truly powerful.
Whether the style of the video awoke an activist passion you didn’t know you had, or turned your stomach, it cannot be denied that it did really well to engage people who perhaps hadn’t previously expressed an interest in human rights. But is all that’s needed to solve the problem of the LRA is for enough of the Western world to ‘know’ and ‘care’ about Kony? And how effective can the campaign be if we can’t see through the internet hype? The answer will be on the morning of the 21st April, when we see if after the world goes to bed on Friday night, we “wake up to hundreds of posters, demanding justice on every corner”.
- Invisible Children were part of a collaborative effort to implement the LRA Crisis Tracker, which we’ve written about before here.