Separating fact from fiction: A closer look at Kony 2012
Published: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 - 3:38pm
On March 5, a 30-minute film was released on YouTube that would send the internet community into a frenzy. Created by a group called Invisible Children, it focused on a man named Joseph Kony in an attempt to make him so well-known and despised that the public would demand his arrest.
Although Kony 2012 was uploaded to Vimeo three weeks before it showed up on YouTube, most people came across the film when a YouTube version began to circle around; Kony 2012 has since accumulated about 88.5 million views.
The film catered to the emotions of anyone who lives a comfortable, relatively safe life. It talked about the Lord's Resistance Army and the atrocities its leader, Joseph Kony, had committed, in particular, the abduction of children to make them child soldiers in his private army.
Jason Russell, the driving force of Invisible Children and the narrator of Kony 2012, was able to spread his message to the far reaches of American teenagers and college students. He preached that Joseph Kony needed to be arrested this year, and that the only way that would happen is if Americans make a big deal out of the situation described. He told watchers that if policy makers were convinced to send more American troops to assist the Ugandan government, Kony would be arrested and the situation would be resolved.
Kony 2012 effectively split the internet in half.
Half instantly supported the cause, re-posting the video and encouraging others to do the same. Twitter and Facebook were bombarded with tweets and statuses praising Invisible Children and expressing their hatred for Joseph Kony.
The other half responded with outrage, not at people going after Kony, but at Invisible Children itself. Many articles, blog posts, and videos appeared that explained how they felt that Invisible Children is taking advantage of a very complex and age-old issue. One post described the situation as "smelling a lot like the 'white man's burden.'"
The general response from Ugandans and other African countries to the video and Invisible Children is very negative as well. In a Democracy Now article covering the initial screening of the film in Uganda, Victor Ochen of the African Youth Initiative Network said that the crowd was angered because they felt that the film portrayed the situation and the victims in an insensitive and inaccurate light.
Invisible Children has been called out on being very loose with the truth regarding the actual situation in Uganda, including its government, as well as their transparency with how they use their donation money. While playing to the emotions of the viewers, Jason Russell failed to mention in the video that the Ugandan government and military, which the money donated to Kony 2012 supports, have committed grave atrocities that rival what Kony has done. Rape, in particular, is one method of oppression the army has employed on its victims.
The main issue with the way Invisible Children operates is the way they take advantage of the "fad culture" that is present in the United States. While taking advantage of that "fad culture" is a successful way to get everyone talking about a certain subject, it makes it almost impossible for any truthful yet contradictory information to reach the masses.
The highly emotional aspect of the video makes it tempting to surrender yourself to Invisible Children, and many have. Once that happens, it becomes difficult for Invisible Children to lose supporters. This is good for them, but very unfair when it comes to the need for complete honesty surrounding important issues and people like Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army.
Furthermore, although the organization claims to have complete transparency regarding their finances, I still feel uncomfortable with the vague information they have disclosed. In the recent video they released, Thank You, KONY 2012 Supporters, the CEO of Invisible Children, Ben Keesey, discussed the finances of the organization. He went over each area of Invisible Children's finances, but did not discuss how the higher-ups of the organization are paid. For me, this is all too suspicious and tears down his attempt at validating Invisible Children's claim of complete financial transparency.
Thus, I leave you with a plea to not let the conversation about these issues die. Asking questions really is the only way to to ensure that no one becomes complacent with the information presented to them.
While you should not let this be just a fad, there are other ways to help eliminate the violence in central African countries without necessarily supporting Invisible Children. For instance, organizations such as Come, Let's Dance are much more straightforward about their work in Uganda. Giving money to credible organizations or actually volunteering in foreign countries are better ways of becoming involved in relief efforts.