Monday, March 12, 2012

Alright, I've gotta ask...thoughts on Kony and Invisible Children?

So, as anyone on Facebook knows (looking at you, Fearless Leader), millions of young people have become "social activists" overnight after watching a 30-minute video made by the Invisible Children organization about the horrifying actions of Joseph Kony, leader of the LRA in Uganda. Among other wrongdoings, he despicably used children, ripped from their homes, and turned them into soldiers, forced to fight for a cause (read: person) they may or may not support (though most likely don't).

Unsurprisingly, this has sparked a great deal of controversy and debate over the value and potentially propagandized nature of the organization and video, respectively. The results of the pressure the supporters of the movement put on elected officials and any actions they take could have huge consequences for our foreign policy, with particular respect to Africa, a place many developed countries have long been averse to treading. So, before I ramble with my own thoughts about the organization, video, impact of social media, etc, what are yours?

By the way, here's an article about how Invisible Children plans to get out on top of the heat they've been taking and make a new video addressing said criticisms. Pretty compelling stuff, if you ask me (not that you were).

And if you haven't yet watched the video that has nearly 75 million people talking, go ahead and kill 30 minutes, my treat.


Amy S. said...

well, this has been quite the water cooler topic at my organization. None of our programs deal specifically with Kony and children soldiers, however I will address the so called criticisms people have against Invisible Children.

People are getting upset that donations are being used to pay staff, fund trips to Uganda and create "propaganda" videos like the one Greg posted. People who voice these criticisms clearly have NO knowledge about how a nonprofit runs. All money donated goes to fuel their mission statement, and videos, staff time and trips are all a vital part of advocacy and awareness.

The people who take umbridge with Invisible Children methods of advocacy (read somewhere that they support the Uganda government in attempting to get Kony...and the Uganda government is by no means an innocent bystander) have much more merit behind their critique.

Furthermore, I think it is great that people know about Kony, although I do think their tagline should have been make Kony INfamous, not one asked me though.

It is also interesting to look at the Kony situation through the framework of the ICC (International Criminal Court) and the US's lack of involvment and leadership on that front...just some food for thought.

Dylan Wulderk said...

I was thinking about asking about this too, Greg. I'll be a little bit of a Debbie Downer:

Obviously I'm not a fan of what Kony's doing, and I think that online advocacy has a lot of power. Last month's Planned Parenthood controversy was fueled by an online movement and "Blackout Day" on January 18 completely killed two previously popular pieces of legislation in SOPA and PIPA.

Boiled down to the bare bones, the Kony video is propaganda--it's a piece designed to influence your opinion and it's based on an opinion (albeit an opinion that hardly anyone disagrees with). That's what advocacy groups do though. Nothing wrong with it, it's just what they do.

But we have to keep in mind that the internet isn't a bastion of integrity. People don't go around fact checking everything, and most people behind these know that. Viral internet movements can bring our attention to something like this or they can make thousands of Americans think the President is a socialist fascist communist Muslim.

The internet's a powerful tool, and something persuasive that appeals to emotions and values can cause a movement. (Ex: we're sad and angry over Kony and we hate war and child abuse; and we're angry and confused about losing the election and we don't like Muslims or Communists.)

I'm not putting the Obama email in the same class of evils (although some might), but the point is this: it's not as hard as you think to influence public opinion when you have the right appeal--and it doesn't matter what your motives are or if they're based in fact. It has just as much of a chance to do evil as good. That's kind of scary.

Greg Hyman said...

Amy--Your point about the purpose and methodology of a NFP is certainly valid, and those who argue that roughly 30% of the money they raise goes directly towards the situation in Africa are misguided. Invisible Children themselves say that their organization is not just a charity, if a charity at all. Clearly, their aim is awareness, and any money they can throw towards the Ugandan gov't/army is simply a bonus. That said, I think the most reasonable criticism would be about how IC thinks the LRA should be dealt with. IC is in favor of military engagement in Uganda, whether through US involvement or through the Ugandan army. The problem with this, of course, is that the Ugandan army, like many others in Africa, is known to be rampant in misbehaving soldiers, to put it nicely, and corruption--is this really the group we should be entrusting with such a task? Further, it is known that for about the last five or six years, Kony has not even been in Uganda, but is now in the DRC, something that IC is reluctant to mention. They are definitely admirable, though, in their work in social media getting young people to back their cause en masse.

Dylan--I agree with your points. Some have pointed out (though like you said, it'd be hard to disagree that using child soldiers is wrong) that the video runs through the laundry list of ways to appeal to emotion--children crying and looking sad, a cute kid echoing what his father says, constantly fading to black, etc)and when one takes a step back he is forced to wonder how much he actually agrees with the group's aims, or if the video was just really compelling. But before you know, he's bought a $30 Kony 2012 kit and has updated his Facebook status accordingly.

Amy S. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amy S. said...

Greg-See now we are getting into a discussion on the merits/legality of humanitarian intervention, and its effectiveness, and who should be doing it. I think that in theory, it makes sense for local/regional authorities to be the first to deal with it, however in practice it definitely might not be the most effective.

Also, the Uganda government referred themselves to the ICC, clearly they are aware that they do not have the capacity to deal with the LRA. The fact that Kony has been able to freely move between state lines is demonstrative of the failure of the ICC to enforce their warrant (enforcement tends to be a common theme in international human rights law/issues).

So if Uganda referred themselves to the ICC, and the ICC has not been effective, whose responsibility is it to stop the human rights violations? The answer to this, of course, depends largely on ones international relations theory...realist, liberal, etc.

Remember that in order for a humanitarian intervention to be legal, it must be sanctioned by the UN. Perhaps the attention IC has garnered to Kony could make that Security Council vote easier?

It will be interesting to see if any government or UN action is taken. I know from working on at Human Rights First that with government advocacy, it is hard to demonstrate and see concrete results of your work. If any action comes, I think it is safe to say that IC can concretely say that they initiated/caused the change.

Also, they are a San Diego based I gotta support the hometown :)