Kony 2012 is a campaign by controversial organisation ‘Invisible Children.’ The campaign focuses on Joseph Kony; leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), an armed group in Central Africa widely condemned for its human rights violations, and use of child soldiers. The campaign has been launched with a fantastically well made video, that has attracted a phenomenal 27 million views on youtube in just three days. But just as youtube has the power to change lives for the better, it can also help distort the truth with unacceptable consequences.
From a methodological PR perspective, the video is really very good if not a bit long. The dissonance between the lives of two young boys, one in America and one in Uganda, drives a desire to act. The emphasis on targeting opinion leaders, demonstrates a understanding of how to spread a message.
However from an ethical perspective, there are serious questions hanging over this organisation’s head. Invisible Children admits on its tumblr page that it works with the Ugandan Army (UPDF). This is the same UPDF that has been accused of severe human rights abuses by Human Rights Watch. This includes the murder, torture, and rape of civilians. Three founders of Invisible Children have also posed with members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) an organisation riddled with accusations of rape. Oh, and they were holding weapons too! Their rather remarkable explanation of this, again to be found on their tumblr page, is as follows:
‘We wanted to talk to them (SPLA) and film them and get their perspective. And because Bobby, Laren and I are friends and had been doing this for 5 years, we thought it would be funny to bring back to our friends and family a joke photo. You know, “Haha – they have bazookas in their hands but they’re actually fighting for peace.”‘
Finally, the video cheerleads the deployment of US forces to assist the Ugandan government and their armed forces. The same armed forces themselves accused of committing atrocities against the Acholi people of Northern Uganda. As the author of one letter puts it:
‘Haven’t enough Acholi people suffered in the violence between the LRA and the Ugandan government? Our alliance should not be with the U.S. government or the Ugandan military or the LRA, but the Acholi people. There is a Ugandan saying that goes, “The grass will always suffer when two elephants fight.” Isn’t it time we let the grass grow?’
So just as social media can be a force for good by empowering people, and giving them hope, it can also distort the truth. Miss this, and you may end up donating to an organisation who campaigns for the US government to give military assistance to an army accused of war crimes!