By now you’ve seen KONY 2012 or at least wondered why everyone is talking about it. The video went on YouTube three days ago and has become an international phenomenon. Thousands of people have celebrated the power of social media to raise awareness, which is somewhat grating as I spent two years of college being constantly reminded how powerful social media is. But in all the talk of the campaign’s effectiveness, have we forgotten the most important principle of communication: honesty?
I ask not because I want to be contrarian, but because the quickness with which Invisible Children, the organization behind KONY 2012, earned detractors is distressing. (I do like to be contrarian, but this isn’t like one of my tweets about my hate for the Winnipeg Jets.) You might say, “But the video is great and they raised awareness of a hideous criminal. Isn’t that what matters?” Frankly, no. If you run out of credibility during your first global campaign, how much more awareness can you raise?
I have my own problems with the video: the lack of understanding of American foreign policy (they avoid conflicts like this not because of self-interest or ignorance, but because they have no legal obligation and the world can’t take their military budget for granted), the juxtaposition of Kony with Hitler (whose operation was far larger, more systematic and, through his own efforts, legal and publicly supported) and the general tone of “Bow down to our awesomeness!” But that’s all besides the point.
No, there’s the fact that so many people who have watched this video are unwilling to give its critics a hearing and dismiss them as naysayers, with a significant measure of contempt. There’s the fact that the Ugandan army they want to fund has a record of human rights violations of its own. There’s the fact that they want this army to violate the sovereignty of the countries where Kony actually might be. And there’s the fact that none of this addresses the underlying issue of corruption in central African governments.
Invisible Children does its job well; otherwise we wouldn’t know about them. But the campaign is, essentially, World Vision with actual people (I use the term lightly) doing the killing instead of diseases or poverty. And that’s been done. One arrest and a whole lot of money and publicity may get rid of Kony, but there are more of him, and this is an unsustainable way to stop them.
So don’t let yourself be taken in by the shiny, pretty video. None of this is new. It’s just being shoved in your face more than usual. And it loses some potency when you consider how many people will click “share” or “retweet” and then just go to the mall.