If you’re reading this post, I’m assuming you have access to the internet, which means I can also safely assume that by now you’ve watched (or at least heard of) Kony 2012 – the virulent online video from an organization called Invisible Children. As quickly as the video spread, so too spread an outcry of people entreating their friends/social media associates to do their research before they jumped on the bandwagon.
Well aware of the vast amount of untruth that exists on the internet, the first thing I did when I saw the Kony 2012 video was google Joseph Kony. Yup, I will admit it. In spite of my education and so-called social awareness, I had never heard of Joseph Kony before. As I’m inherently programmed to be skeptical of everything I read online, I even considered that maybe this was an elaborate theatrical trailer for an upcoming blockbuster. But Google rarely fails me, and in this case it returned the fact that Joseph Kony is indeed a real person, and he is indeed a bad man who has been responsible for many unspeakable crimes. So I did it. I became one of those people. I shared the link.
I subsequently visited the website for Visible Children (created by Acadia student Grant Oyston – who incidentally is now receiving several hundred emails per hour) which contains some information on The Invisible Children charity. Most damningly, it notes that last year the organization spent more than $8.5 million and only 32% of that went to direct services, with most going to staff salaries, travel, film production, etc. It also states that Invisible Children is in favor of direct military intervention and that they are supporters of the Sudan and Ugandan armies, which have both had multiple accusations of rape and looting. A quick turn around various foreign policy websites also reveals that Joseph Kony is probably not in Uganda anymore and hasn’t been for quite some time. The thought crossed my mind that I had posted too soon with too little background information, and I ruminated on possibly deleting the post. But then I thought, in spite of the imperfections of the genesis of the message, what would be the reason to NOT share the video? Why would I NOT want someone to see this? Who loses if more people see this video?
Over the past day, some doubts have definitely been raised about Invisible Children and their mission and fund distribution practices. I think that the creation of that video was probably quite expensive and I’d be interested to see its actual price-tag. I’ll also concede that the creators were a bit too preachy for my own liking, and the incorporation of little Gavin was certainly on the gimmicky side. But still, I’m left with the thought that yesterday morning there were not that many people who knew the name Joseph Kony. I could (and still can) name all the Kardashians, the entire cast of Harry Potter, and all of the Spice Girls, but I had never heard of Joseph Kony before, and I’ll admit that’s kind of embarrassing. Now, according to YouTube, the views are over 20 million. So that’s 20 million more people who now know something about an issue that they may have been oblivious to yesterday.
They said at the start of the video, the aim was to raise awareness and test the effectiveness of social media, and on that front they’re pretty much kicking ass. I think we can all agree that the world would be a better place without warlords and child soldiers and any form of slavery, and if people have ideas about how to stop these things it’s at least worth hearing the ideas. I’m not saying the Invisible Children charity is perfect, and I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t donate to this cause. But I do think that you should take the video for what it is (a masterful piece of viral marketing, if nothing else), learn both sides of the story, and think about the awareness it raised. Maybe that will motivate you to donate to Invisible Children or to another charity, or maybe you’ll delete the link and express your outrage that everyone is jumping on the charity-du-jour bandwagon, or maybe do some more research on how to help child soldiers, or contemplate how ethical it is for the director of any charity to take home a hefty salary. But regardless of your stance on the video, it did at least one thing – it raised awareness about an issue and an area of the world that gets too little attention. And that’s enough for me to keep the link up.
This post was written by Leslie, and does not represent the views of all members of ThisNeedsToStop.