ChangemakerNet|#SocialGood4Youth

Deconstructing the #Kony2012 Social Media Spin: “This Changes Everything”

This is my second blog post about Invisible Children (click here for the first one), the innovative and unconventioal youth empowerment, social justice, global citizenship and media-based advocacy group from San Diego, California. Their primary proclaimed aim is to “end the use of child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s rebel war and restore IRA-affected communities in Central Africa to peace and prosperity” (www. invisiblechildren.com). Founded by three university film students in 2003, Invisible Children (IC) started with the goal to make a documentary on the crisis in Darfur, but ended up uncovering a long-standing civil war and the notorious atrocities of  the rebel leader Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). From this catalytic experience, they created a global youth movement to save children from LRA abduction and help communities rebuild in Northern Uganda and beyond, as the LRA rebels expanded into the DRC, CAR and South Sudan. Over the last year, IC raised in excess of $13 million to support their cause.

Mulgrave School, West Vancouver (Canada), has been a strong supporter of Invisible Children since 2009-2010 when CEO Ben Keesy and IC were keynotes at our annual student-driven Cypress Student Student Summit. Since then the IC roadies have come to present to our Upper School student body twice. This April, our IC Club, which is one of our most engaged groups with over 50 member from Grades 7-12, is planning to host a special “#Kony2012: Getting the Full Viral Perspective” screening on Tuesday, April 17th at 6.30pm with a public opportunity to discuss and debate the phenomenal success and critical response to the viral video. We changed our original event from a fundraiser to an awareness evening just recently, for obvious reasons, and are still awaiting IC’s response to our pitch. We hope it happens are excited to offer this healthy, constructive opportunity to discuss issues and broaden the debate. To date, we have raised over $10,000 to support IC and are ranked 25th in North America for our contributions.

As our screening approaches, I thought I should do an review of the contentious issues and the so-called “backlash” against Kony2012 and IC that have emerged, as not only did Kony become a household name, but so too did Invisible Children. Our students will be reviewing these issues this week as well during our club meetings. My review is not polished, and I apologise for any lapses in development, mechanics and fluidity. I just wanted to get it out there.

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By now, IC’s Kony2012 is very old news, at least to the social media world with over 100 million viewers of this “social activism 2.0″ clip.  Kony2012’s popularity has redefined the concept of “going viral.”  Even Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” video took 18 days to reach the same number.  Kony2012 exemplifies the new wave of open source activism (often slighted as “slackavism”) and the reaction to the video, on many fronts, captures the struggling disconnect and bitter gasps from a dying breed of NGOs and charities that are simply not attracting the social, political or giving eyes of the Millennials or the iGeneration.

IC is slick and MTV style in delivery, definitely not belonging to the often cheesy ‘Save the Children’ style infomercials of the past (watched/created/supported by Millennial parents). Invisible Children is innovative, engaging, youthful, relevant, eccentric, digital, entrepreneurial, fun and now;  they have cool swag and young people in their promotions; they utilize trendy “game mechanics” in their campaigns and recklessly break all the charity rules. They irk the traditional or purist third sector models of philanthropy and activism which originated in the postwar 20th century.

And Kony2012 was a stunning and, honestly, unexpected success:

No advocacy campaign has ever come close to shining the kind of spotlight on a developing world conflict in the manner Invisible Children has. At a stroke, conventional media presentation, whether print, radio, television, blogging or social media, all looked desperately tired, as though, like apes trying to figure out the telephone, we’d all somehow missed the huge potential to engage and communicate the new technology was offering. Russell told me Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood producer and distributor, was just one among a number of media figures who had telephoned him to say: “This changes everything!” http://globalspin.blogs.time.com/2012/03/19/kony-2012-mobs-takedowns-and-meltdowns-but-very-little-truth/#ixzz1q8VG4OF4).

With all eyes on IC, like any social medis sesnsation, the critics questioned and the online trolls emerged. The critiques included simplification, sensationalism, warmongering, personalization, paternalism, misuse of funds and lack of transparency, among other issues. The trolls took it further and made it dark and personal, declaring IC as racist, homophobic, fundamentalist, imperialistic, exploitative, fraudulent and superficial. The mental breakdown of co-founder Jason Russell, also caught on film and disseminated on YouTube, allowed opponents to go even further and exaggerate, demonize, laugh, distort the truth and humiliate others. An online feeding frenzy ensued. Making Kony (in)famous inadvertently made IC the same.

At first criticism was intelligent, sensible and valuable, suggesting the need for a greater voice, forum and debate on issues that Kony2012 raised and questioning the logic, motives, methods, goals and the point where “truthful journalism and activist advocacy part ways”.  The critics have explored how and why…

a small activist group could go viral with its presentation of the LRA in a way that the New York Times or the BBC, or indeed TIME, never will” . In the end, the worthwhile debate was swamped by a wildly inaccurate, malicious online ‘takedown,’ most of whose participants were utterly uninterested in truth [or social justice] but focused instead on a point-scoring, trashing and hurting, the digital pogrom of the unaccountable, anonymous Invisible Mob. Strangely, even as the participants zeroed in on Invisible Children’s fast and loose presentation of the facts, most responded not with superior research or knowledge but ever wilder and thinner conspiracies…  (http://globalspin.blogs.time.com/2012/03/19/kony-2012-mobs-takedowns-and-meltdowns-but-very-little-truth/#ixzz1q8VG4OF4).

In the end, while Invisible Children lack the obvious complexity and nuance of university scholarship or investigative journalism, nothing has been uncovered to discredit the value and spirit of their campaign. And really, come on… the simplicity of the message is the whole point, as their audience includes elementary to university students from all walks of life.

Here’s a breakdown of the key critiques of the Kony2012 campaign and responses; my views are blended with many others. I did my best to distinguish sources listed below, but this is not a scholarly piece either, but a work-in-progress blog of ‘shared’ views. I don’t prentend to be neutral or objective here. I clearly appreciate the work of IC and their innovative and original model that has inspired so many of my students to get engaged in the world, in whatever capacity they can.

At the same time, I certainly do believe, as I’m sure IC does, that there are no doubt huge lessons to be learned and important areas for improvement, particularly in terms of transparency and strategies in all its multitudinous layers.

Just Another Case of ‘Slacktivism’ or ‘Clicktavism’

Some critics have painted IC with the dismissive brush of  ”slacktivism” or “clicktavism” — a new form of superficial activism where ‘liking’ an issue on Facebook, tweeting on Twitter or tumbling on Tumblr. are seen as taking action and making a difference. However, to claim the campaign was not successful and action-oriented just doesn’t hold water. Kony2012 ends with a clear call-to-action: to purchase action kits. Furthermore, IC clearly states the overarching purpose Kony2012 video is to raise awareness.  Nonetheless, critics still claim that the video goal is pointless and it is not awareness: viewers simply watch, share and go back to their everyday lives without committing to any serious engagement in the cause beyond ‘a click.’

But again this claim is easily challenged. First, IC sold so many action kits they ran out. Second, the vast majority of people now know who Joseph Kony is, regardless of whether the perspective they have on Kony is complexly accurate:

Invisible Children set out to make him [Kony] famous, and that’s exactly what the video achieved.

Invisible Children has brought an elevated level of awareness and a new call-to-action to a long-standing silent war. As a result of the campaign, media organizations like NBC Nightly News are sending teams to Africa to further investigate and build awareness around the issues. Politicians are coming out in strong support of taking action. Invisible Children’s awareness tactics have led to tangible action in the past, and I think this latest campaign has the momentum to make their largest impact yet (http://www.ragan.com/Main/Articles/90e1c602-9a32-4eb9-8b46-91faabdd0aa1.aspx).

In the end, many critics also clearly did not watch the full video or research the organisation before they dismissed the group as ineffective and superficial. The irony should not be lost in this situation.

Oversimplification and Gaps

A common critique is also that the Kony narrative is too simple. However, the compelling power of the narrative is its focus and straightforwardness: Kony is a bad person who should be captured to end the suffering for the people of Central Africa. If we do our part, and advocate the case to powerful people, the US military will provide support and resources so steps are taken and Kony will be stopped.

Russell implicitly acknowledges the simplicity of the narrative with his filmmaking. Much of his short film features him explaining to his young son that Kony is a bad guy, and that dad’s job is capturing the bad guy. We are asked to join the campaign against Kony literally by being spoken to as a five year old. It’s not surprising that a five year old vision of a problem – a single bad guy, a single threat to eliminate – leads to an unworkable solution. Nor is it a surprise that this extremely simple narrative is compelling and easily disseminated (http://thefifthwave.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/the-unsettling-simplifications-of-kony-2012/).

Furthermore, IC states the following in their response to critics:

In our quest to garner wide public support of nuanced policy, Invisible Children has sought to explain the conflict in an easily understandable format, focusing on the core attributes of LRA leadership that infringe upon the most basic of human rights. In a 30-minute film, however, many nuances of the 26-year conflict are admittedly lost or overlooked. The film is a first entry point to this conflict for many, and the organization provides several ways for our supporters to go deeper in learning aboutthe make-up of the LRA and the history of the conflict. Likewise, our work on the ground continually adapts to the changing complexities of the conflict.

As one blogger notes: “The Invisible Children story presents a difficult paradox. If we want people to pay attention to the issues we care about, do we need to oversimplify them? And if we do, do our simplistic framings do more unintentional harm than intentional good? Or is the wave of pushback against this campaign from Invisible Children evidence that we’re learning to read and write complex narratives online, and that a college student with doubts about a campaign’s value and validity can find an audience?” (http://thefifthwave.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/the-unsettling-simplifications-of-kony-2012/).

Another criticism suggests the narrative leaves gaps in understanding such as an inadequate emphasis on highlighting that Kony is no longer in Uganda. Even the Ugandan President responded by making a video to the world suggesting Kony2012 misinforms viewers about the rebel leaders whereabouts. Perhaps someone might miss this information in the film if he/she did not watch the video fully or carefully (it is claimed only 20% of viewers actually watched the full film), but IC is VERY clear about Kony’s whereabouts on their website and at their public engagements online, at school and beyond. Invisible Children has built an early warning radio network to protect local citizens from rebel attack in the DRC and beyond. Their website has a user interface that tracks LRA movement and attacks. It is clear to my students that IC is not just about Uganda and that Kony is no longer hiding out in Uganda.

In the end, the target audience is high school, university students and it’s designed for the short-attention-span YouTube format. As Finck says, “The backlash criticizing the film for being oversimplified misses the point – Joseph Kony and his top commanders are still committing atrocities today in central Africa with impunity, and international efforts to stop him have not succeeded” (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/03/16/kony_2012_invisible_children_rebuttal):

Delving deeper into the issue quickly reveals its complexity. The LRA have become masters of evasion and survivaleluding regional forces by weaving between country borders and veiling their tracks among those of nomadic herders. They are much smaller in number than they were a decade ago, and yet the atrocities they commit against the civilian population remain devastating. Since 2008, the LRA has abducted over 3,400 civilians, killed over 2,400 others, and displaced over 400,000 people from their homes. The history of the conflict is complex, and the solutions require a multifaceted response from an array of humanitarian and security actors. A 29-minute Internet video will inevitably fall short of addressing these nuances. (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/03/16/kony_2012_invisible_children_rebuttal)

What is not complex, and what the film appropriately simplifies, is the morality of the issue. For 26 years, Kony has perpetrated some of the most egregious human rights abuses on the planet, with total impunity. This idea justly demands the world’s attention, and in the simplicity of Kony 2012, the film has garnered just that. The film is a gateway tolearning more about the conflict, its background, and involvement in broader social issues around the world.

In a rush to point out Invisible Children’s oversimplification of the LRA, the critics also made an error  – an oversimplification of Invisible Children itself.  IC has been around for almost a decade. Here’s IC’s response to critics who haven’t done their homework about their organisation and their history of engagement (with some slight alterations):

Invisible Children and dozens of other groups have been directing attention to this conflict for years. IC has made 11 films about the LRA, starting in 2003 when the group was still active in Uganda. After the LRA moved out of Uganda, they launched an advocacy campaign with hundreds of thousands of youth from around the world asking the international community to support the Juba Peace Talks in South Sudan. Yet in these talks, as in the past, Kony took advantage of the relative peace to  stock up on supplies and abduct young recruits to strengthen his force. With dialogue off the table, we worked with a coalition of partners to pass the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, which President Obama signed into law, pledging US support to apprehend top LRA leadership and provide assistance to LRA affected communities. Most recently, we’ve expanded operations on the ground in DR Congo and CAR to support civilian protection and rehabilitation initiatives led by local partners. For eight years, we have been following the LRA’s movements, working with LRA-affected communities and collaborating with local and international organizations to promote lasting solutions to the crisis.

Invisible Children’s program leaders on the ground are from Uganda and DR Congo, many of whom have been personally affected by the LRA, and who are leading the design and implementation of innovative recovery efforts in the region. In Uganda, Country Director Jolly Grace Okot has pioneered the model for our programs, taking a long-term approach to overcoming the effects of conflict by improving the quality of education at schools and offering merit-based scholarships to the region’s most promising youth. In DR Congo, we’ve partnered on projects with local leaders, like Abbe Benoit Kinelegu, who have committed their lives to stopping the LRA crisis, most notably through a civilian early warning network and FM projects that encourage LRA defection. A glance at our programs on the ground and the substance of our most recent advocacy campaign shows that we do our homework, and the choice to make this film “simple” was just that. A choice.

The true impact of Kony 2012 in this conflict will not be in its ability to raise awareness, but in its demand for results. This is not about tweeting a warlord into submission or ending a conflict with a click. This is about years of advocacy work done by groups in central Africa, northern Uganda, Washington, DC — and, yes, San Diego — united with groups around the world that have enabled us to reach this moment. Each person involved in the efforts to make Kony famous is helping to build a global constituency, bigger than any one person or organization, invested in the end of LRA violence — pushing those in positions of power to increase their commitment towards peace in the region…. To end the LRA threat to communities, we need to change the conversation to a solutions-focused approach on the ground in currently-affected regions.

http://www.invisiblechildren.com/critiques.html

Misapplication of Funds & Lack of Transparency

Although IC has work to do in this area, especially with youth, they have always been clear in how they use their funds: advocacy, awareness and programs. Again, the IC response says it all:

Invisible Children’s mission is to stop LRA violence and support the war-affected communities in East and Central Africa. These are the three ways we achieve this mission; each is essential: 1) Make the world aware of the LRA. This includes making documentary films and touring them around the world so that they are seen for free by millions of people. 2) Channel energy from viewers of IC films into large-scale advocacy campaigns to stop the LRA and protect civilians. 3) Operate programs on the ground in LRA-affected areas that provide protection, rehabilitation and development assistance.

Invisible Children’s financial statements are online for everyone to see. Financial statements from the last 5 years, including our 990, are available at www.invisiblechildren.com/financials. The organization spent 80.46% on our programs that further our three-fold mission; 16.24% on administration and management costs; and 3.22% on direct fundraising in Fiscal Year 2011. Invisible Children is independently audited every year and in full compliance with our 501(c)3 nonprofit status.

As you will see, we spend roughly one third of our money on each of these three goals. This three-prong approach is what makes Invisible Children unique. Some organizations focus exclusively on documenting human rights abuses, some focus exclusively on international advocacy or awareness, and some focus exclusively on on-the-ground development. We do all three. At the same time. This comprehensive model is intentional and has proven to be very effective.

IC has also been accused of misusing funds by spending too much on film and media campaigns. But, as we all know, it’s a film and media advocacy organization, clearly stated in their mission and on the splash page for their website. And film is precisely how they’ve generated such a massive following of young supporters for their mission. As one writer exclaims in response to such challenges,

Would critics rather they spent nothing on film and media and that no one know about them or the issue?  Should this issue, the children remain invisible? Of the $8.9 million the group spent last year, only 3.2% was spent on fundraising, and only 16.24% on administration. And guess what people were administering and fundraising for? The mission of the organization. So, to you young followers out there, given what I’ve seen, I’d say 100% of the money you’re giving is going to good. I actually think they should be spending more, not less on fundraising.

Finally, lack of transparency is another area IC has been accused of. Today, 21st century models of business and service — whether public, private or nonprofit — are being held to much higher standards of accountability. According to many, including my own review, Invisible Children has clear and transparent financial and disclosure records. Check them out here: http://www.invisiblechildren.com/financials.html.

That said, transparency is still one significant area for improvement, especially when dealing with youth, and I will mention this at the end of this post.

Racism and Paternalism: the Absence of African Voices & Great White Hope/Savior

Again, the critics have not done there reseach. All the presentations by IC at our school have spoken about ICs grassroots African partnerships and even school tour presentations have been done by Ugandans themselves. Here’s IC’s response again that says it all:

The partners Invisible Children’s programs in Uganda, DR Congo, and Central African Republic are implemented with continuous input from, and in respect of the knowledge and experience of, local communities and their leaders. In Uganda, we learned very quickly that a top-down, Western approach was not the answer, and that local solutions were needed to fill critical humanitarian gaps. It is for this reason that over 95% of IC’s leadership and staff on the ground are Ugandans on the forefront of program design and implementation. In DR Congo, Invisible Children works with the Commission diocesaine justice et paix (CDJP), supporting projects that have been identified as priorities by local partners and that are responsive to local realities and needs. Invisible Children staff members in project areas consistently strive to ensure that they build the capacity of local partners and do not take on duties where local partners can more responsibly and effectively carry these out; the organization meticulously monitors and evaluates the impact of its work on the ground, partnering with Princeton in Africa and employing qualified Monitoring & Evaluation professionals.

In terms of the African or Ugandan response to the video, it is understandable some were disappointed that the film was not told from their perspective, but through the eyes of American youth. The perceived insensitivity to the Central African victims of Kony’s oppression via a film that ‘makes Kony infamous’ in a postmodern propaganda style is also a good point.  The play and marketing techniques are lost in cultural  translation. IC should have considered this before trying to screen the film in Uganda or developed a different version for a different market; however, we still need to return to the fundamental  purpose of the video:

It is understandable that Ugandans would not connect with the video in the same way as American viewers did. After all, the video is intended to mobilize American support, and thus appeals to that audience. Specifically, It is directed towards getting American youth to care about something on the other side of the world. It is indeed important for us to listen to what those folks on the other side of the world have to say. We need to hear their perspectives, and learn how we can partner with them. However, the simple fact is, most of us had not even heard of Joseph Kony before this video, and the only reason that we are now hearing the voices of [African] people like Rosebell Kagumire is because we watched the KONY 2012 video first.

In that sense, the video is already a success in that it has raised our awareness. Now that it has been brought into the national spotlight, we can begin to listen to the many voices of those affected whom we simply would not have heard before. They have been made visible to us.

Last of all, IC is accused of stepping in to solve a humanitarian crisis that should be done by Africans.  But as Nicholas Kristof states in the NY Times, “When a warlord continues to kill and torture across a swath of the Congo and Central African Republic, that’s not a white man’s burden. It’s a human burden. To me, it feels repugnant to suggest that compassion should stop at a national boundary or color line. A common humanity binds us all, whatever the color of our skin — or passport” (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/15/opinion/kristof-viral-video-vicious-warlord.html?_r=1).

The Jason Russell Meltdown

Russell’s meltdown is certainly unfortunate since at the time it happened the Kony2012 campaign seemed to be entering a very healthy discussion phase, moving beyond the reactionary critics. The discussion on the effectiveness of advocacy campaigns was even getting into the mainstream media. In then end, Russell had his public breakdown which was reported wildly and inaccurately in the media. The police never charged him and no reference to any vandalism or sex act was taken seriously, except by the media. He was taken to the hospital where he remains to this day. He reportedly had not slept for 9 days.

And in come the trolls and the dark side of social media emerges again.

Warmongering? Request for More US Military Intervention

This is one place which remains of greatest contention from Kony2012. The critics claim Invisible Children advocates for more military intervention in Central Africa and indirectly support the oppressive US-backed Uganda government. Critics suggest Africans have asked for humanitarian and not military intervention, that Ugandans, Central Africans need negotiation, diplomacy, democracy and humanitarian support and not military action. And Kony is hardly the only problem. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/21/opinion/in-uganda-kony-is-not-the-only-problem.htmlhttp://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=8075

IC responds clearly that it believes all other options have been tried and failed. They also address that they are not defenders of the UPDF:

For more than two decades, Kony has refused opportunities to negotiate an end to the violence peacefully, and has used peace talks to build up his army’s strength through targeted abduction campaigns. Governments of countries where Kony has operated — including Uganda, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Central African Republic — have been unable to capture Kony or bring him to justice. This is because regional governments are often not adequately committed to the task, but also because they lack some of the specific capabilities that would help them do so. The KONY 2012 campaign is calling for U.S. leadership to address both problems. It supports the deployment of U.S. advisers and the provision of intelligence and other support that can help locate and bring Kony to justice, but also increased diplomacy to hold regional governments accountable to their basic responsibilities to protect civilians from this kind of brutal violence. Importantly, the campaign also advocates for broader measures to help communities being affected by LRA attacks, such as increased funding for programs to help Kony’s abductees escape and return to their homes and families.

We [IC] do not defend any of the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Ugandan government or the Ugandan army (UPDF). None of the money donated through Invisible Children ever goes to the government of Uganda or any other government. Yet the only feasible and proper way to stop Kony and protect the civilians he targets is to coordinate efforts with regional governments.

In the end, IC is “advocating for the arrest of Joseph Kony so that he can be tried by the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a precedent for future war criminals. The goal of KONY 2012 is for the world to unite to see Kony arrested and prosecuted for his crimes against humanity”.

Conclusion & Areas for Improvement

While we claim through rhetoric and programming that we want raise a new generation of youth or global citizens based on new models 21st century learning, and develop students who are socially conscious, caring, responsible and active global citizens, our critical, often harsh, responses to such campaigns suggests we are not ready to embrace the different possibilities of youth led movements of change. Many of us are still stuck in the charity and social good paradigms of the past. But, as Not for Sale recently proclaimed when they visited our school for our Spirit Week in March, the traditional ‘charity is dead’ in the eyes of the next generation.

The raw, positive spirit of youth and hope expressed in Kony2012 seems to threaten us, in the adult-world at least, as if the critics want to say, in a familiar voice of an all-knowing parent,  ”You kids have no idea how complex the issues really are and don’t your know we’ve already tried our best, so what makes you think you can do better? Don’t you know it’s hard to change things!” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/derek-flood/understanding-the-respons_b_1351704.html

As Derek Flood argues,
Change is indeed hard, but does that mean we need to shoot down hope any time we see it lift its head? The Kony 2012 video has raised some really big questions for us: Can we as individuals really make a difference? How much positive change can we realistically bring about? Most importantly: can we have hope without being naive and uninformed? What is the balance between that hope and healthy critical thinking? These are all hard questions that defy simple answers. The reality is, change only comes with struggle, and it usually comes slowly. But it does come. Perhaps the real question is whether you and I will be a part of it. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/derek-flood/understanding-the-respons_b_1351704.html)
“We Are Who We Are”
In the end, Invisible Children’s “open source” media-based activism is what it is. Appealing to Millennials, their responses to critics are open, honest, and thoughtful. They are not trying to “save” Africa” and they do focus on locally led initiatives. They are unapologetically dedicated to inspiring Western youth to do more than just “click” or “watch”. They are committed to change and making a difference, but certainly not by conventional means, following in the footsteps of social entreprenurism and advocay groups like Me to We http://www.metowe.com/ and ONE.org.
In terms of their research, IC states:
Our programs are carefully researched and developed initiatives by incredible members of the local community that address the need for quality education, mentorship, the redevelopment of schools, resettlement from IDP camps, and rehabilitation from war. If you know anyone who has been there to see it first hand, there is no doubt they will concur. Also, we have invited you to join us on www.LRACrisisTracker.com, which we established as a way to bring you near real-time reports from the ground, making available to the public the same information received by humanitarians working on the ground.

Invisible Children have shown us the great potential for engaging the world through social media in a manner never achieved before but an activist group. There is no question in my mind, or I think in the minds of most thoughtful critics, that IC’s intent is good and IC has done good related to the cause of “invisible children”. But, as Alex Perry explains, IC “has also shown us the price we have to expect to pay for that: an almost limitless, instant — and by that I mean thoughtless — response. It’s been enough, apparently, to break Russell, someone whose intent, whatever you thought of his methods, was merely to shine a light on one of the world’s more forgotten, and nastiest, conflicts. Will anyone be brave enough to try to do the same again?” (http://globalspin.blogs.time.com/2012/03/19/kony-2012-mobs-takedowns-and-meltdowns-but-very-little-truth/)

In the end, IC’s great fault is naivete: they did not anticipate the success of their campaign and did not fully think through the limits of understanding of their model and programmes when placed on a global stage. They also failed to make sure their supporters, youth in particular, fully appreciated their eclectic, social entrepreneurial model, one that focuses on advocacy as much as on the ground programmes, and one that uses donations to pay for operations and salaries, not just charity donations in a traditional sense. In this light, the greatest areas for improvement, specifically for high school youth, that IC should take away from this are the following:

Be Even More Transparent in Mission and Financials:
Although their mission and financials are open and clear to me, I am not sure they are fully transparent to youth at my school, as many were surprised by the distribution of funding to the three areas. The awareness about your social entrepreneurial aspect is never highlighted in presentations. IC should be even more explicit in their media and presentations to ensure no misunderstandings so students, supporters, can make informed choices.

Share/Publicise African Voices and Engage in Partnerships:
Again, although I hear and see this commitment, I think this could be made stronger with voices in film and media that demonstrate IC’s connection to African voices. As well, demonstrating IC’s partnerships locally and globally with other like-minded groups broadens our collective perspective on who they are and what their reach is. Invisible Children then becomes defined and endorsed by a larger, more collaborative, world voice.
Be More Explicit in the Diversity Strategies for Success
While I appreciate elements of the single-mindedness of the “stop Kony” campaign and implied military intervention, a greater exploration or appreciation of alternative means as well as a full explication on IC’s work in schools, scholarships/education, resettlement, communication and rehabilitation in Central Africa (not just Uganda) would allow again for the full picture to be better appreciated by all.
The possibility of IC ever recovering from the massive online critque is questionable. That said, if any group could do it, IC is certainly capable — anything is possinle after Kony2012! Certainly at my school it appears the IC club may slowly fade away and be reduced to a small core or perhaps keep the focus but with a different charity, like War Child. Millenials, especially high school youth, are a fickle lot, easily swayed by social media moods; they will not align themselves with something that in a viral sense has gone sour as that would be potentially embrassing and open them to criticism or ridicule that IC has received. Right or wrong, this is the current climate at our school.
We will wait and see. We hope IC is coming to our school on April 17 as planned for critical discussion forum with us.  My hope is that this blog helps give perspective to this phenomenal media happening, especially as a response to the wild criticisms out there. #Kony2012 will no doubt be studied in the realms of film, marketing, entertainment and nonprofits; regardless of how people see IC or their programmes, it definitely “changes everything”.

Some Suggested Readings (which were reviewed and/or used in this blog):

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/15/opinion/kristof-viral-video-vicious-warlord.html?_r=1

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/03/16/kony_2012_invisible_children_rebuttal

http://globalspin.blogs.time.com/2012/03/19/kony-2012-mobs-takedowns-and-meltdowns-but-very-little-truth/#ixzz1q8VG4OF4

http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=8075

http://blog.invisiblechildren.com/2012/03/16/foreign-policy-invisible-children-responds/

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/16/us/backlash-aside-charities-see-lessons-in-a-web-video.html?_r=3

http://blogs.hbr.org/pallotta/2012/03/the-kony-2012-controversy.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/13/invisible-children-joseph-kony_n_1341488.html

http://thefifthwave.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/the-unsettling-simplifications-of-kony-2012/

http://globalspin.blogs.time.com/2012/03/19/kony-2012-mobs-takedowns-and-meltdowns-but-very-little-truth/

http://www.ethanzuckerman.com/blog/2012/03/08/unpacking-kony-2012/

http://www.invisiblechildren.com/critiques.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mobileweb/derek-flood/understanding-the-respons_b_1351704.html

#Kony2012

Invisible Children response to critics:

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One Comment

  1. Alex says:

    Great analysis, Tony. Like you I’m curious to see how our students react, in the long term, to this. It would be great if the points you raised for discussion were addressed by the IC group coming in April, I think that would go a long way for continued support. Sadly though you are correct that students are fickle, but I would hope IC might see the potential (challenging though it would be) to participate in a dialogue with their target market.

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