All Things Kony-sidered
If you frequent social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, and the secret, but not-so secret Tumblr, there is no doubt that you’ve heard about Joseph Kony. If you’ve had thirty minutes to spare, you’ve probably watched the viral video by the non-profit organization Invisible Children that has gained more than 73 million views in only a week of its release. And you’ve probably witnessed the uproar it has since caused by, basically, the world.
Hipster Social Activists
Several social networking hipsters have been quick to jab at the world for now caring about Uganda, the Invisible Children organization, and Kony. They do sort of have a point. (Can you locate Uganda on a nameless map of Africa?) The United States has known about Kony for several years now. After all he is the number-freaking-one most wanted criminal by the International Criminal Court and has been ruining lives for about twenty-six years now.
So yes, social activist hipsters, you caught us. We’re all now just jumping on the “Stop Kony” bandwagon. But this isn’t about some silly issue like a band that’s been out for several years that’s just now gotten popular—ahem, Mumford and Sons–or a book that everyone’s freaking out about because it’s being produced into a film… cough, cough –The Hunger Games (so excited!)… This is about a man that has committed thousands of crimes against humanity and people that are suffering. And you’re bragging about knowing about it before everyone else? Whoa now.
If anything, you’d think that these people would be moved at how many people care and want to make a difference. And the reason that so many people care, and most significantly, so many young people, is because the viral video that Invisible Children released is the first that has ever directly targeted young adults. Invisible Children is well-known amongst our age group because its campaigns are directed straight at us. On their website, they claim to be, “global community of young people”. Their video is the first one that has ever said, “Hey, look at this. This is terrible. But you can help. Here’s how!” After seeing that video and being left with the feeling that you could change someone’s life, that you could “shape the course of human history”, who wouldn’t feel compelled to throw out a few “Stop Kony” hashtags? Do they really deserve condemnation?
Well, yes. Slacktivism, as defined by Marc Kilstein is: “A combination of slacker and activist, slacktivism commonly refers to passive, feel-good measures taken in support of an issue or social cause that, in reality, have little practical effect other than self-satisfaction.”
Recently, it’s become popular to be a slacktivist. It’s not entirely your fault. We see things like, “like this if you support the fight against breast cancer.” Last summer, a few of us were asked to change our pictures to characters from old cartoon shows in order to raise child abuse awareness. And since Invisible Children has posted their Stop Kony video, thousands of us have felt compelled to tweet about the traumatic happenings in Uganda in order to, you guessed it, raise awareness and Stop Kony. Recently, mainly it seems ever since TOMS shoes became popular (yeah, I know I’m stepping on a few toes here…pun intended) it’s become trendy to show that you care if you can somehow flaunt it through an article of clothing, a bumper sticker, or a social networking status.
Yes, Joseph Kony is a terrible, terrible man that has done horrendous things. But tweeting #StopKony, or changing your default picture on social networking sites, or reblogging posts related to Kony doesn’t simply up and arrest this man. The entire situation isn’t even that simple; which is something that the organization responsible for raising everyone’s awareness about has been called out on.
Awareness is not the same as action and it does not count as doing your part. Many online cynics have been quick to point this out and it’s true. Although the Stop Kony campaign has shown how many caring individuals still exist in the world (which is something most online cynics have failed to appreciate) efforts to #StopKony2012 have virtually no impact whatsoever. It will not bring about real change.
Kelsie Blocker contemplates about slacktivists when she says, “I feel like…if you truly wanted to help, you’ll find a way to do it. Regardless of how you found out, if it’s something you truly care about, you’ll find out more info, and you’ll do your part.”
Honestly, when you’re looking back at your life, will you really consider “raising awareness about an atrocity occurring in a third-world country” as something that you can be proud of? Does this really count as what Invisible Children called, “Shaping the course of human history?” Which furthermore should cause many to wonder if joining Invisible Children’s “Cover the Night” on April 20th, where people poster pictures of Kony across their town, thus catapulting his name into stardom, will even make a difference. While social networking and “poster-bombing” can be a powerful catalyst for getting information out and motivating people to get involved, it’s going to take much more than awareness to stop Kony, if Kony is even something that deserves awareness…
The real problem with this entire Kony thing is: where’s the truth? Many of us that watched the video undoubtedly and wholeheartedly accepted what was being said to a fault. That is, until we saw several articles that rebutted basically everything the video said. And for those of us that did further research we were quickly led astray by dozens of articles that presented convicting facts and bold opinions. There are rumors that Invisible Children is a huge scam. There are rumors that Kony is dead. There are conspiracy theories that it’s all just a ploy to get Uganda’s oil. There’s the lament that the Kony campaign reeks of the “white man’s burden” mentality. The internet is full of experts; it’s a little nauseating.
What, or who do you believe without feeling like you’re being manipulated or somehow brainwashed? How do you or can you really help when nearly every article contradicts the other? How can you truly have an informed opinion on something when your opinion is based off the opinions of other people whose opinions might not even be based off the correct facts? Everything has become hearsay.
All that can really be suggested in forming your own valid opinion is finding a source that can be trusted and that can verify their information. Like Wikipedia, for example. It’s really easy for anyone to have an opinion on the internet and sound like an expert, but in order to not be susceptible to everything that gets thrown at you, you have to think critically and consider the source. Do your own research and don’t believe everything you see or read just because it has more than seventy million views.
And despite the good intentions of all new and old anti-Kony supporters, several sources state that Invisible Children is sending out the wrong message. This isn’t just from pessimists and cynics lurking on the internet or from those who brought Invisible Children’s financial expenses into question, but from actual Ugandans, and Americans that have visited Uganda recently, and real experts! Kony and the LRA were driven out of Uganda in 2006 and now exist in a weakened state with only several hundred soldiers. Invisible Children is aware of this and says that we should strike Kony while he is down, but some Ugandans fear that international help may cause Kony to retaliate and form a stronger army. In fact, most Ugandans don’t agree with many of Invisible Children’s tactics at all. They state that Invisible Children has oversimplified the Kony issue, undermined the power of the local Ugandan government, and made Ugandans appear to be hopeless.
But the problem with all of the Ugandans criticizing Invisible Children is that they’ve claimed that Invisible Children’s message was only about Uganda and have caused others to turn a blind eye to the issue. Invisible Children’s message wasn’t entirely “Save the helpless Ugandans”, it was, “Save Central Africa.” The LRA is still attacking and abducting civilians in South Sudan, the Congo, and the Central African Republic; which is something that many people fail to give much merit to. This makes sense however, seeing as the LRA attacks are not as brutal or massive as they once were. But still, only several hundred soldiers are still a lot of soldiers. Times Magazine recently posted their own video titled “Hunting Children in Sudan” where a boy named Moses tells his story of how he was abducted by the LRA and forced to kill a girl or be killed during an LRA raid on a village.
Although Invisible Children has said and done some sketchy things (this is me indirectly mentioning that their co-creator was recently hospitalized for having a naked meltdown on the streets of San Diego), we shouldn’t forget about what the real issue is. And don’t you dare take off your “Stop Kony” bracelet from secondhand embarrassment. Don’t even think about it.
At the end of the day, one needs to take in several key factors about this whole Kony situation. One is that the US is already doing what it can to #StopKony. President Obama sent 100 military advisers to help rid Africa of Kony in October of 2011. Two, is that the situation in Africa is very, very complicated and isn’t something that we should get more of our military involved in which is what Invisible Children wants us to do. Third, is that in most African villages, there are problems that deserve our attention more than Kony does. These problems, such as the nodding disease, AIDS, or the famine that Somalia is struggling to stay out of, can be significantly changed by donating to respectable charities that don’t manipulate facts in order to swindle more people toward their cause.
Think Globally, Act Locally
Another thing to bang on the top of your head is that caring about what goes in a third-world country shouldn’t be a trend. Caring about people that are suffering in general should never, ever be a trend simply because of how fleeting trends are. Invisible Children call their videos, “the Pixar of human rights stories,” but is it fair that of all the atrocities going on, this one gets the most attention because it looked cooler and there was a cute little boy in the video that “wants us to stop the bad guy”? Can our emotions really be manipulated that easily?
The truth is that there will always be terrible things that are going on. There will always be people that need to be helped. And the truth is that you can find a handful of those people in your own town.
“I think that Kony has brought an opportunity for many people in this school…to see the world around them and to accept the role that they are about to step into,” says Laura Elder. “Unless the people of every society are vigilent in the pursuit of knowledge of both good and bad things, evil will continue to flourish unchecked and unknown and good deeds will continue to go unnoticed.”
I urge you to view this entire Kony hubbub as a message to get involved in your community and change someone’s life not because it’s cool, not because you want to feel good about yourself, and because hey, you could score a neat-looking bracelet (something to show the world that you care), but because it’s the right thing to do. The people in our town, these are the invisible people, the people that are truly without a voice that have no social media outlet and never will. Sure, the story of these people may not be as riveting or tear-inducing. They may not be photo-friendly and they may scare you, but do it anyway.