Should I fight an evil man who abducts children and forces them into sexual servitude and child soldiery? The answer seems obvious. Yes. But what if I don’t know who this man is or how to find him? What if I didn’t even know that this man existed? Well, never mind then. I wouldn’t care about if I should or shouldn’t find him.
KONY 2012 is a social media-driven awareness campaign led by the group Invisible Children. It aims to maintain awareness of the crimes against humanity, and specifically against children, committed by Joseph Kony, the leader of the LRA militant group. The group recognizes that most people do not know who who Joseph Kony is and correspondingly have little interest in stopping him. The group also recognizes that when people do not care about an issue, the government ceases to devote resources to it. As such, the campaign’s main goal is to raise enough awareness of Kony’s crimes so that people will continue supporting US military involvement in the latest effort to find and capture Kony.
The campaign’s strongest educational tool is a 24 minute video that provides a simplified background on the conflict (literally boiling it down to a version the filmaker’s toddler son understands), the campaign’s goal (stop these bad things by stopping their bad guy leader), and how you can help (share this video so more people will care). After watching it I was struck by the high production values of the video and accompanying website as well as how quickly the video had spread among my friends. As the video was winding down I found myself feverishly writing down the next steps I could take to support the campaign. I was overwhelmingly energized by the way the organizers provided concrete action steps for myself, as an individual, to support the cause. As I moved to post the video to facebook and pulled out my wallet to donate, however, I recognized that although I wanted to act I needed to educate myself.
Over the last few days I have been contemplating the uncontrolled way that the media moves public discourse. I am shocked by the way large media corporations can twist interest in issues deserving of society’s review and turn those issues into whatever will generate the most ad revenue or get the most web traffic. It makes sense that these privately run media companies have an incentive to make a profit: It just doesn’t make sense for us a as a society to allow our agendas to be set but such profit-seeking activity. Simultaneously, however, I am grateful for social media and the power it puts into the hands of regular everyday people. When I saw this group using social media to try and move public discourse towards a topic that was was meaningful and would not otherwise have been addressed by commercial media interests I immediately wanted to support it.
It would be naive, however, to assume to simply trust and promote this cause without looking into its background and trying to gain a full picture so I tried to dig into the issues. Often, I like the idea of a charity or a cause but I choose not to support it because it is being poorly run or is distorting the issues just as terribly as those they fight against. What I read was somewhat mixed - apparently going after Kony in the past has led to worse fighting and going after him will not solve the problems facing central Africa. The fact that Kony has evaded capture for so long has much more to do with the lack of governance in the region than how terrible and crafty he is as a villain. The problems of the central Africa cannot be solved by simply capturing one man and it’s likely that the US military might feel pressured to stay on after completing their mission to capture Kony. There were some people who took specific issue with Invisible Children for oversimplifying matters and found them misleading. One vocal opponent of Invisible Children was opposed to it because they felt that those who supported the organization did so ignorantly and by acting in ignorance made the problems worse.
At this point I feel like I’ve learned enough about the issues and the organization Invisible Children to make an informed decision on whether or not to support them. According to Charity Navigator Invisible Children is a 3 out of 4 star organization which could work on spending more money on its actual projects and service but is overall quite transparent and devotes approximately 80% of funds raised to its programs. I recognize that getting rid of Joseph Kony isn’t going to solve the problems of Central Africa but I believe that capturing him and bringing him to justice at the hands of the ICC is a step in the right direction for the entire international community. I also recognize that although the LRA has actually been dwindling in its activities over the past few years, there are many former members of the LRA who need to be rehabilitated after the trauma they faced after being abducted and forced into combat and sexual servitude as children. I also recognize that I want to support the use of media in directing public attention and discourse towards the issues which, by their mere discussion, improve that forum and creates a more thoughtful and humane society.
Invisible Children isn’t a perfect organization but I admire what they’re trying to do and how they are going about it. Seeing how its founders motivated themselves and then ignited that passion in others energizes me to remember my old mantra, to be the change I want to see in this world. So I’ve decided to act - I’ve ordered an Action Kit for two reasons. (1) So that what I paid would be donated to their efforts at rehabilitation and protection of people affected by the LRA and (2) so that I can support their media blizzard day in April. Again, I think it’s important to inform oneself before acting and before encouraging others to act so I am not blindly asking others to follow my lead. I’m only encouraging people to learn about this and think about it because, let’s face it, crimes against humanity are more important than the latest red carpet fashions or techno gadget and its worth our time to give it as much thought as you would those other things that we routinely spend a few minutes flicking through updates on each day. And while I’m at it, I think I want to spend more time thinking about where the media I consume comes from, so I’ve just started subscribing to an NPR podcast that literally on the media. Hopefully my study and thoughts on media will improve the very media I create on here. We shall see.