Kony 2012: Over 30-million views, but could it do more harm than good?

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The mission to bring Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) leader Joseph Kony to the world’s attention seems to be working. With more than 30-million views on two platforms in two days, the internet seem desperate to find out more about the man some have dubbed a war lord.

On 7 March, non-profit organisation Invisible Children premiered a documentary titled “Kony 2012” — the aim was to use social media to raise awareness to Kony’s actions. Through celebrity and policymaker support, the campaign exploded on social media with more than five topics on Twitter’s global trends list. The hashtag #stopkony and Invisible Children were still in the top 10 trending topics around the world a day later.

The documentary’s director, Jason Russell, has spent the past 10 years trying to tell the story of the children of Uganda and what Kony was doing to them. On 20 April, the campaign will culminate offline in what Rusell refers to as Cover the Night. With the aid of hundreds of thousands of posters, stickers and flyers printed, Russell urges people to “meet at sundown and blanket every street in every city until the sun comes up. We will be smart and we will be thorough. The rest of the world will go to bed Friday night, and wake up to hundreds of thousands of posters demanding justice on every corner.”

He goes on to say, “The technology that has brought our planet together is allowing us to respond to the problems of our friends.”

The organisation’s latest Facebook post has received more than 21 000 likes, more than 3000 share and 1700+ comments.

Some have, however, cast doubt on the work being done by Russell and Invisible Children.

Critics rise

Though he calls the campaign “one of the most pervasive and successful human rights based viral campaigns in recent memory,” conflict blogger Mark Kersten contests that the documentary is “obfuscating, simplified and wildly erroneous.”

He also thinks that “‘Kony 2012′, quite dubiously, avoids stepping into the ‘peace-justice’ question in northern Uganda, precisely because it is a world of contesting and plural views, eloquently expressed by the northern Ugandans themselves.”

This begs the question, Kersten claims, of what happens after Kony is stopped?

The idea of “stopping Kony”, of course plays into the narrative created by the ‘Kony 2012′ campaign where what actually happens to Kony and the LRA is irrelevant. The unspecific aim of ‘stopping’ him is sufficient. Who, after all, doesn’t want Kony “stopped”? But then what? If Kony is killed or captured, then what? What happens to the other members of the LRA? ‘Kony 2012′ offers no answers here.

Other online critics seem to agree with Kersten. One even accuses Invisible Children of filling its own pockets with donations.

Invisible Children has been condemned time and time again. As a registered not-for-profit, its finances are public. 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.

Another critic accused Russell of not providing enough information about the conflict in Uganda rather it left viewers “emotionally assaulted” and possessed gross inaccuracies about the current state of LRA dealing in Uganda.

Invisible Children responds

Following the criticism the organisation received online, it chose to respond with a full statement disclosing its financial statements as well as address its mission:

Invisible Children’s mission is to stop LRA violence and support the war affected communities in Central Africa. These are the three ways we achieve that mission. Each is essential: 1) Document and make the world aware of the LRA. This includes making documentary films and touring these films around the world so that they are seen for free by millions of people. 2) Channeling the energy and awareness from informed viewers of IC films into large scale advocacy campaigns that have mobilized the international community to stop the LRA and protect civilians. 3) Operate programs on the ground in the LRA-affected areas to provide protection, rehabilitation and development assistance.

Be it good or bad, Kony 2012 has the world’s attention.

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