March 14th, 2012

How the Kony 2012 Campaign Throws a Spotlight on Media Literacy

Picture: Twitter/@prettypinkprobz

The latest internet trend is not a Youtube video of adorable kittens or some seemingly gravity-defying stunt gone wrong, but rather the Kony 2012 campaign, highlighting the crimes of Joseph Kony, head of the Lord’s Resistance Army. The group behind this campaign is called Invisible Children. They indicate on their website that their organization “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.” Currently, the video has over 75 million views, which is unprecedented for activism by means of social networking. While it is commendable that Invisible Children has enlightened millions of people who were previously unaware of the atrocities committed by Joseph Kony, there are numerous issues with this organization and their campaign that are cause for concern.

As this article from Foreign Policy states, there are some obvious flaws with the Kony 2012 video, such as that Joseph Kony is no longer in Uganda – and hasn’t been there for several years – as well as that the LRA is no longer as widespread in Uganda as the video suggests. Anywar Ricky Richard, a former child soldier in the LRA, states that “[a]t this moment, the optimism and hope of the people in northern Uganda for the end of violent conflict and the return of peace is more prominent than ever. This is a direct outcome of the protracted negotiation that previously took place in southern Sudan. Even though the peace talks (2006 – 2008) sponsored by the government of South Sudan did not result in a peace agreement between the LRA and the government of Uganda, it has brought relative peace to Northern Uganda, and people have moved back to their original villages from the refugee camps where many had been confined for more than a decade. At least for now, there is no Joseph Kony in Uganda.”

Invisible Children advocates military intervention to bring Joseph Kony to justice, but this is a misguided approach, considering the dubious record of US military intervention worldwide, or that the Ugandan military is guilty of abhorrent human rights abuses itself. Anywar Ricky Richard asserts that “[s]ince 1989 the government of Uganda has consistently used military campaigns against Kony including major operations like Operation Iron Fist (2001) and Lightning Thunder (2008 – 2009).” These efforts have not been successful, though, as “…Lightning Thunder spread the LRA’s atrocities to the Central African Republic as Kony relocated there. The only known result of the military attacks on Kony is the dispersal of his forces into smaller groups, resulting in new atrocities on civilians.”

It is worth mentioning another issue of concern regarding Invisible Children – some of the groups from which the nonprofit receives funding. Currently, there is a proposed bill in the Ugandan parliament, which was first introduced in 2009, that would persecute homosexuals, who have been brutally targeted for years because of their lifestyle. According to the BBC, this bill, when “…first introduced in 2009…proposed lengthy prison sentences and even the death penalty for ‘repeat offenders’. Ugandans would be required to report any homosexual activity within 24 hours or face prosecution themselves.” According to reports, Invisible Children has received funding from numerous anti-gay, religious fundamentalist groups. This further suggests Invisible Children’s misguided efforts as an organization, considering the Ugandan government’s neglect of gay rights. The organization has addressed these criticisms, as well as various others, asserting that they do not condone the Ugandan government’s human rights violations, but nonetheless they persist that “…the only feasible and proper way to stop Kony and protect the civilians he targets is to coordinate efforts with regional governments.”

It is not the popularity of the Kony 2012 video itself that deserves criticism. Indeed, this video has established a precedent for the future of activism, proving that the internet, in particular social networking websites, have the potential to serve as invaluable tools in such efforts. There are millions of videos uploaded to the internet each day, including videos that highlight human rights issues worldwide, but Invisible Children’s video has stood out from them all. Regardless of the cause an organization supports, however, or how well put together their campaign is, it is necessary that people do their research, especially when donating money to their cause. Questioning an organization’s motives does not curtail their efforts or deny that which they advocate for is not valid – quite the contrary. We must not easily fall victim to advertising, especially when enticed by “doing something” to address the plight of individuals worldwide. The internet has the potential to be an invaluable tool for activists in promoting a cause, and it is also an invaluable tool to guarantee that the public remains well-informed, with the ability to connect with others and seemingly endless knowledge available to us at our fingertips. It is absolutely essential that we do not neglect this responsibility to remain well-informed.

–Caitlyn Garcia

Caitlyn Garcia is a student at William Paterson University, double-majoring in French language & literature and political science.

2 Comments

  1. The day KONY 2012 exploded online, my 8th graders had just finished an advertising unit. A critical analysis of KONY 2012 was the perfect opportunity to find out what they’d really learned. Even before the world began questioning the film’s facts, critically literate viewers should have been able to spot blatant strategies of manipulation in the video . It’s imperative that teens learn to view everything they see online critically: to question rather than passively observe. Feel free to use this discussion guide I created in any way that’s useful: http://bit.ly/wUIAqI

  2. The Lamp says:

    Wow–such perfect, coincidental timing, and a great way for students to connect what they learned in your advertising unit to real-world events. It’s a great counter to the “But how will I use (insert school subject) in real life?” question. We would love to hear some of their comments here, and thanks so much for sharing your discussion guide.

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