Perhaps you’ve watched the Kony 2012 video, or at least seen it posted tens of times on your Facebook newsfeed, blasted across the Twitterverse. The energy surrounding Invisible Children’s campaign is unprecedented. The Kony 2012 documentary film has ricocheted around the globe, accumulating over 77 million views on Youtube and more than 13 million on Vimeo since its launch. Millions have shared the video on Facebook and the Twitter hashtag #stopkony has been trending worldwide.
But the question of the hour is: what do we do with that energy? As an organization of informed advocates, how do we draw on the strength of the Kony 2012 campaign to create a platform for critical discussions on advocacy, atrocities in Central Africa, and anti-LRA movement?
Some see Kony 2012 as a crucial entryway, an opportunity to draw a new base of passionate constituents into the movement of students opposing mass atrocities. Mission San Jose High STAND chapter leader Charlotte Miller blogged on “The Tipping Point,” articulating her hope that Kony 2012 can act as a catalyst, inspiring students to engage in movements against other mass atrocities in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or Syria. As Charlotte writes, “This may be the enough moment, the tipping point… The excitement and determination of my generation is simply astounding, and, for the first time, I see a real way of bringing an end to the slaughter of innocent people.” As Keshov Sharma of Duke STAND pointed out in a core chapter leader email thread, Invisible Children accomplished precisely what it set out to do—it built a broad base inspired by its work and taken by its narrative. STAND student Brad Calloway also praised the video for the buzz it sparked, voicing his excitement about seeing peers so engaged in anti-genocide issues, eager to discuss STAND’s work as a fellow advocacy organization. “I’ve perceived the video’s purpose to be more or less planting a seed in the hundreds of thousands of students’ minds that will hopefully grow and make them more interested in the intricacies involved in Central Africa,” he wrote on STAND’s Facebook page. Another STAND chapter leader, Angie Walker, advised other STAND organizers to “take the energy and run with it! We should use the Kony2012 campaign to expand STAND’s public reach.”
Though perhaps a valuable entryway for new activists, the campaign has also generated a firestorm of criticisms. Firstly, Foreign Policy blogger Joshua Keatingpoints out that the video contains many egregious factual errors. Joseph Kony has not been in Uganda for the past six years—the LRA has left Northern Uganda and its operations are now centered in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and DRC, which is mentioned only in passing at 15:01 in the movie. Furthermore, the LRA is comprised of at most several hundred soldiers—not the 30,000 child soldiers cited by Invisible Children. As Keating points out, while the LRA “is still causing immense suffering, it is unclear how millions of well-meaning but misinformed people are going to help deal with the more complicated reality.” Given the size and scope of the LRA—as well as the limits on policy intervention against it– it is an important human rights issue but not necessarily the most pressing atrocity that the United States is capable of addressing. As STAND’s Conflict Free Campus Coordinator Carly Oboth wrote to fellow core chapter leaders, activists may as well be mobilizing around “BASHIR 2012! ASSAD 2012!”
The factual misrepresentation is disturbing. But a much more complex topic for discussion is the questionable advocacy strategies Invisible Children has employed in its campaign, and the potential they have to perpetuate cultural stereotypes and biases. As STAND Student Director Daniel Solomon points out his blog post, “Let’s Talk About Kony” the simplified narrative spun by the Kony 2012 documentary largely fails to balance advocacy efforts with an understanding of civil society mobilization in areas of conflict. As Daniel writes, “We’re not doing enough to define the terms of empowerment, to balance our advocacy perspectives with an understanding of civil society mobilization in conflict-affected areas, and to establish meaningful, sustained cross-cultural linkages that prioritize empathy, rather than sympathy.”
Finally,in critiquing the Kony 2012 campaign many activists have wondered what meaningful actions the video can inspire. Invisible Children has engaged an audience that is tremendously large– but uniformed. So after someone shares the video, what is their next step? How can they further their activism against mass atrocities, or step forward from online to offline action?
The debate over Kony 2012 is raging through emails, Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere. This is a unique moment in our movement’s history in that a broad range of individuals are engaging in discussion, from inspired students lacking any advocacy background to the wonkiest policy experts on the web. We encourage you to contribute to this ongoing dialogue with comments, questions, concerns, or excitement.
What are your thoughts and commentary on Kony 2012? How do you think we can harness the energy from Kony 2012 in order to create an accurate narrative that will inspire informed activism? Leave a comment and let us know!
UPDATE: Feeling like a refresher on your history of Kony and the LRA? Check out this one-pager we put together!