KONY 2012, a film and campaign by Invisible Children, has become an internet phenomenon in the past 48 hours with an astonishing 38 million people — and counting — viewing the video on YouTube and many millions more on Vimeo. The viral success of this campaign has reverberated across the internet and the following extracts from my Twitter stream offer just some of the many opinions and reactions elicited by the video.
— karina brisby (@karinab) March 8, 2012
— William Hague (@WilliamJHague) March 8, 2012
— Ed Pomfret (@EdPomfret) March 8, 2012
Haven’t had chance to see the Kony 2012 video yet, & already there’s been a backlash & a counter-backlash. And presumably a Downfall parody.
— Charlie Brooker (@charltonbrooker) March 8, 2012
— Rosebell Kagumire (@RosebellK) March 7, 2012
— weldon kennedy (@weldonwk) March 7, 2012
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) March 7, 2012
I am not a fan. The best responses that I have come across today include Innovate Africa, Rosebell Kagumire and Project Diaspora — all more knowledgeable about the issues than I am. The Tumblr blog, Visible Children, is collecting many of the critiques and a Guardian blog has been tracking the story.
Despite the success of this campaign in raising awareness of the broader issues, it presents a very simplistic picture. It’s reductive. It’s disempowering. And I think it’s very unlikely to contribute significantly to the achievement of its desired aims. This is cynical campaigning for a YouTube audience more commonly drawn to videos of a dog running away from its owner or cats doing something amusing.
Invisible Children have utilised every trick in the book to create a popular online video. Emotive and dramatic commentary? Check. Sweeping ambition to change the world through the power of social media? Check. Flashy editing? Check. Cute child? Check. People dancing to feel-good music? Check.
And they have framed all this within a personal narrative that reduces the entire issue down to good versus evil and disregards the role of African actors in resolving the conflict. This all makes for great entertainment but it is misleading and serves mainly to reinforce perceptions of the passive victim and massage the egos of those campaigners ‘saving the world from the bad guys’.
By nature, all mass campaigns have to be reductive to a certain extent, in order to define key messages, communicate them effectively and garner support from a general public who don’t have time to trawl through all the research on any particular issue. But this can be done with much greater integrity and it can be framed in a way that empowers those that the campaign purports to represent. KONY2012 just feels like an exercise in money-making by a charity with a rather questionable spending record.
Judge for yourself…