It is safe to say that last week, 99 percent of the people in this country had never heard the name Joseph Kony. That percentage is falling by the second thanks to an organized YouTube, Twitter and Facebook campaign that says as much about the power of social media as it does about the evil that lives in the jungles of central Africa.
Joseph Kony is considered by many to be the world’s most notorious terrorist. For more than 20 years, Kony led raids on villages in and around Uganda to build his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Parents are slaughtered, boys are abducted and forced to be children soldiers, and girls are used as sex slaves and repeatedly raped. The numbers of killings and abductions are staggering. Some say both count more than 100,000. It is safe to say that they are both at least 50,000.
Although Kony has been considered the devil reincarnated in Africa, he has been able to operate for the most part in global obscurity. Our apathy has been his strength. That’s ended. Kony is receiving world attention now, as I and many others are writing about him because of a 30-minute video made by Jason Russell, a filmmaker and dad in Canada. As I write this, the video, entitled KONY 2012 (see below), has more than 32 million hits on YouTube. It was just released three days ago.
The video is powerful, part home movie and part production house. Its purpose is well defined: to make Joseph Kony famous so that he can’t work in the shadows of our apathy anymore.
Within hours of its release, KONY 2012 was trending on Twitter and Reddit. The Facebook page shows Kony on a poster alongside Osama bin Laden and Adolf Hitler. If you use Twitter with any regularity, you have seen the hash tags #stopkony and #kony2012 being tweeted by celebrities like Oprah, Rihanna and Justin Bieber.
The Stop Kony campaign, produced by Invisible Children, a charity headquartered in San Diego, has been around for four years. It has been effective in lobbying Congress and getting President Barack Obama to send 100 members of U.S. Special Forces to help hunt for Kony in the jungle.
But Invisible Children has never before received the current level of attention, and with it comes criticism. The video has been accused of exaggerating, manipulating and ignoring facts for “strategic purposes.” Critics point out that the Ugandan government, and its long list of human rights violations, is never once mentioned in the video. Others argue that the video fails to mention that Kony has already been weakened, has few forces and is on the run. And there is great concern that money, instead of going to charities in Uganda that directly help the children and families tortured, killed and abducted by Kony, will instead be donated to the Invisible Child social media campaign.
Let me deal with some of the criticism. It seems impossible to exaggerate or manipulate the horror that is Kony. For instance, the video says he has abducted more than 60,000 children and turned them into soldiers. Other articles and Wikipedia estimate more than 100,000. At a certain point, the numbers don’t matter; this is an evil that should be stopped. Imagine the outrage if just one family, or one neighborhood had to suffer a Kony raid in our area.
As for Kony, yes he is on the run, but his arrest and conviction is still vitally important to the region and would send a strong message to the world.
And finally, a video can only do so much. This one far surpassed anyone’s expectations. As the social media campaign shines a searchlight on the jungles of Uganda, the exploits of the government there are also illuminated. Journalists who now criticize KONY 2012 should be the ones ashamed for ignoring them for so long. Charities in Uganda should also benefit from the exposure. Invisible Child is helping to make people care about something they didn’t even know about last week. If the video’s goal is achieved and Kony is captured, the world media will finally pay attention and donations should follow.
There is real fear of Internet Short Attention Span; that once this current flurry of attention subsides, the Internet masses will focus on the next cause of the week. I’m not sure you can blame the video—that would be on us.
Kony 2012 will be with us long after Joseph Kony is captured as a study in the power of social media. Not too long ago, it was the TV networks that forced the world to care about Somalia, Tiananmen Square and Bosnia. Now it is a dad in Ontario.