Editors note: This is a blog that I wrote for my personal blog site, I am republishing it at the owner's permission (mine).
The explosive power of social media has brought one viral video to more than 70 million pairs of eyes across the globe.
For those of you who have yet to click on the link that has been popping up in your news and twitter feeds for the past two weeks, I am going to make a small attempt to explain the newest trending topic and the criticism while also expressing my thoughts on the matter.
On March 1, the non-profit organization Invisible Children released a 29-minute documentary to make African warlord Joseph Kony "famous". The video, Kony2012, has reached more than 70 million YouTube viewers since its release. It was the number one trending topic on Twitter and has been retweeted by celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Justin Bieber, Oprah Winfrey and P.Diddy. One of P.Diddy's tweets about Kony2012 was reportedly retweeted more than 57,000 times.
Documentary maker Jason Russell narrates the docu-movie and even features his 5-year-old son in the film. The YouTube description of the video states that "Kony 2012 is a campaign by Invisible Children that aims to make Joseph Kony famous, not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice".
The group's website states that Invisible Children uses "film, creativity and social action to end the use of child soldiers in Joseph Kony's rebel war and restore LRA-affected communities in central Africa to peace and prosperity".
The opening line in the film states that "Nothing is more powerful than an idea" and that's what the video aims to do, tell viewers the Invisible Children's idea to rid the world of Kony for the atrocities he has committed against children and humanity.
Russell starts out with talking about people's desire to connect and how social media has enabled those around the world to do so at an ever increasing rate, "this connection is changing the way government works, the game has new rules".
The first scene takes place in a delivery room with the birth of Russell's son, he says "he didn't choose where or when he was born but because he's here, he matters". But he was "born into a pretty complicated world", Russell says.
"Who are you to end a war, I'm here to tell you who are you not?"
Russell describes how about 10 years ago he met and befriended a Northern Ugandan boy who was "running for his life". In the film the boy, Jacob, vividly describes how his brother was trying to escape from rebel forces and was captured and killed. At one point, Jacob explains through tears how he would rather die than stay on earth "we may meet in heaven, if I saw my brother once again..."
"We are going to do everything we can to stop them. We are going to stop them," Russell told Jacob in the film.
In fulfillment of that promise, Russell said he posted the video. "The only purpose is to stop the lord's resistance army and Joseph Kony".
Thus was born the Kony 2012 campaign.
The video uses provocative photographs and statistics to capture the minds of the viewers and attempt to explain who Joseph Kony is.
"He makes them mutilate children's faces."
"He forces them to kill their parents."
"He turns the girls into sex slaves."
Just some of the claims Russell makes about Kony.
In a New York Times article Russell is quoted as saying "No one wants a boring documentary on Africa," he said. "Maybe we have to make it pop, and we have to make it cool." "We view ourself as the Pixar of human rights stories," he added in the March 8 article.
Invisible Children's calls to action:
*"Do three things: 1) sign its pledge, 2) get the Kony 2012 bracelet and action kit (only $30!), and 3) sign up to donate. "
*On April 20- Invisible Children is calling on its supporters to stop Kony and the LRA's campaign --
"This is the day when we will meet at sundown and blanket every street in every city until the sun comes up," Russell says in the video. "The rest of the world will go to bed Friday night and wake up to hundreds of thousands of posters demanding justice."
The end of the docu-movie asks for viewers to also contact representatives and celebrities. The Kony 2012 website provides links for visitors to message celebrities such as Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerburg, Oprah, Angelina Jolie, Lady Gaga and Jay-Z. And links to message policymakers like Bill Clinton, John Kerry, Condelezza Rice and George W. Bush.
Just as quickly as the supporters of Kony 2012 rallied behind the cause, the criticism surrounding the campaign's purpose, finances, facts and all-around agenda exploded as well.
Washington Post blogger Elizabeth Flock addressed Invisible Children's response to their campaign's criticism.
In her post Flock wrote "But in November, a Foreign Affairs article pointedly challenged the tactics used by Invisible Children and other nonprofits working in the region. "Such organizations have manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA's use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony -- a brutal man, to be sure -- as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil," the magazine wrote". Flock went on to address criticism of a bill Invisible Children helped pass into law in 2009. "The bill is designed to support stabilization and peace in Uganda and areas affected by the LRA. Critics say it has strengthened the hand of the Ugandan president, whose security forces have a human rights abuse record of their own. The Enough Project, an NGO that fights genocide and human rights abuses, has said the bill's bipartisan support showed people "come together for peace."
Another blogger has also gotten media attention recently for his personal criticism of the Kony campaign. "I do not doubt for a second that those involved in KONY 2012 have great intentions, nor do I doubt for a second that Joseph Kony is a very evil man. But despite this, I'm strongly opposed to the KONY 2012 campaign." Blogger Grant Oyston went on to address the non-profit organizations facts and finances.
"Invisible Children has been condemned time and time again... Last year, the organization spent $8,676,614. Only 32% went to direct services (page 6), with much of the rest going to staff salaries, travel and transport, and film production. This is far from ideal for an issue which arguably needs action and aid, not awareness, and Charity Navigator rates their accountability 2/4 stars because they lack an external audit committee. But it goes way deeper than that. " Oyston goes on "is awareness good? Yes. But these problems are highly complex, not one-dimensional and, frankly, aren't of the nature that can be solved by postering, film-making and changing your Facebook profile picture, as hard as that is to swallow. Giving your money and public support to Invisible Children so they can spend it on supporting ill-advised violent intervention and movie #12 isn't helping. Do I have a better answer? No, I don't, but that doesn't mean that you should support KONY 2012 just because it's something. Something isn't always better than nothing. Sometimes it's worse. If you want to write to your Member of Parliament or your Senator or the President or the Prime Minister, by all means, go ahead. If you want to post about Joseph Kony's crimes on Facebook, go ahead. But let's keep it about Joseph Kony, not KONY 2012. "
SO, WAS IS IT GOOD OR BAD?
A New York Time's article on March 8, I think, summed up and addressed the topic from the most objective standpoint I have seen thus far.
"Gripping and evocative though it is, the video has alarmed many veteran observers of the devastation Mr. Kony and his fighters have left in their wake over the years."
"Some have called the video a pitch-perfect appeal to so-called slacktivism, a pejorative term for armchair activism by a younger generation, often online. But rather than eschew such digital action, the video takes it as one of its primary goals. Making Mr. Kony infamous, after all, is just a click away."
Pernille Ironside, a senior adviser for child protection at Unicef who is an expert on the Lord's Resistance Army said in the Time's article "It's not just one organization in the United States who has discovered this issue," she said. Still, Invisible Children "is essentially distilling a very complicated 26-year war into something that's consumable and understandable by mass media."
"It's ultimately a good thing," she said. That's what I agree with. Finances and facts aside, Invisible Children acheived their goal, I would say, of making Joseph Kony famous.
Maybe they did exagerrate facts. Maybe donating to their organization is not the best way to help the conflict in Africa or the children suffering because of it.
But, one thing I do know is that Joseph Kony is a terrible human being and has been for the past 26 years. He is currently on Interpol's Most Wanted list and is wanted by the International Criminal Court for: War crimes , Kidnapping, Life and health, Hooliganism/vandalism/damage and crimes against humanity.
So regardless of all the media attention and whether Oprah or Ryan Seacrest support the campaign, children are suffering at the hands of Kony. Awareness is NEVER a bad thing. What one chooses to do with that awareness is up to them, I just say make sure you have all of the facts that you can readily and realistically attain.
Actor Don Cheadle said it best, ""Still cycling through the info. Firsthand: I have been to the night commuters camps, world vision and the like. No Q Kony is a bad guy," he wrote. "But divergent perspectives I find informative and the truth often lies somewhere betwixt and between what's proffered. You must use your.. critical minds and innate instincts to decide for yourselves while leaving open the possibility to understand more as more is understood."
Regardless of what you believe, there is one thing I 100 percent support and agree with that Russell said in the documentary, "where you live shouldn't determine if you live". Well said Mr. Russell.
*Republished at the permission of the author