KONY 2012: A MISGUIDED MESSAGE?

There’s no doubt that Invisible Children’s KONY 2012 campaign was wildly successful in attracting attention and there’s certainly no doubt that the situation in Northern Uganda as portrayed by KONY 2012 requires attention. But there’s much more to KONY 2012 than a stellar film and an expertly executed social media campaign: It’s a fascinating study of media ethics and of social responsibility.

One area of concern is the oversimplified message in the initial KONY 2012 film. Jason Russell frames the problems in Uganda as being a classic case of good versus evil, as a bad man doing awful things. While this is certainly true, what’s missing is an understanding of how complex the problem is: the political, social and economic conditions that gave rise to Joseph Kony in the first place; how Uganda’s neighbors (namely the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Sudan) are implicated; and the conditions that must inevitably shape our own response.

It is of course true that the public doesn’t respond well to complex messages; perhaps Russell knew this and packaged the message behind his film accordingly. But it seems that he does have at least some responsibility to tell his predominantly young, idealistic, highly motivated followers that the situation in this region of Africa is highly complex and that getting rid of Kony is but one strategy to employ in bringing peace and stability to the region. While I don’t necessarily fault him for not communicating this in his first film, I do fault him for not broaching the matter in his second follow-up film where he could have taken the opportunity to shed some additional light on the problem––particularly after realizing that his video had succeeded beyond his wildest dreams and that he now had the support of thousands of people, including a number of high profile celebrities.

While it is true also that doing something is probably better than doing nothing (there are some who believe that capturing Kony will actually make matters worse), one can argue that we need to take the time to get informed about what is taking place in Uganda, Rwanda, the DRC, and Sudan and decide for ourselves if bringing Kony to justice is feasible (there is some doubt as to whether he can actually be apprehended given the fact that he regularly travels between sovereign countries) and can effect a long-term solution to the problems in this region of Africa. To that end, we should not respond blindly to the emotionally charged message behind the Kony films and take time to consider what a reasonable, practical, and effective response to the problems plaguing this area might entail.

Note: Brooke Gladstone of NPR’s “On The Media” interviewed Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times who talked about Invisible Children wanting to create a “tipping point” and how the campaign was in need of a “bridge character.” You can listen to the segment here.

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