Kony 2012 and Youtube: The Power to Distort?

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!




About hanifleylabi

MA PR student at the University of Sunderland, and graduate of the University of Leeds with a BA in Politics and Parliamentary Studies. I have experience in non commercial PR, having worked as an Events and Communications Assistant for a non-profit organisation based in London. Also have experience in political PR having completed at internship as a Junior Member's Assistant to a Member of the Canadian Parliament. Top of the national #socialstudent influence list for 16 of 18 weeks. I have a keen interest in social media, catering, travel and all things food related!
This entry was posted in Ethics, Social Media, Third Sector. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Kony 2012 and Youtube: The Power to Distort?

  1. Matt says:

    One of my main gripes with this campaign is that it has taken a number of extremely complicated issues and attempted to simplify them in order to appeal to slacktivisits. The amount of actual education that has taken place about this situation is minimal.

    It’s a great example of how social media can be utilised to promote a particular topic, but hopefully it’ll also serve as a warning to those who want to become online activists to do their research rather than take as gospel the content of every YouTube video that tugs at their heart strings.

  2. Pingback: Week 9: Twitter, Mediactive and Kony21012 « Mad4Media

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