Thursday, March 8th, 2012...11:17 pm
Let’s keep this simple.
Joseph Kony, a warlord in Uganda, is leader of a guerrilla army called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The LRA is a rebel militant group that commits atrocities against civilians including murder, mutilations, rape and even cannibalism. They have kidnapped and forced an estimated 66,000 children to fight for them. Kony has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Although he is one of the most wanted criminals in the world, to this point he has evaded capture and has been seemingly uninhibited in causing terror and harm in his region.
Until this week, most people around the world did not know about Joseph Kony.
That all changed when Invisible Children, a non-profit group based in San Diego, released a 29-minute Youtube video called “ Kony 2012”. They enlisted A-list celebrities (Oprah, Zuckerburg, George Clooney, etc.) and policy makers to promote the campaign through social media. They launched a compelling and engaging website, Kony2012.com. In just a few days the video has been viewed over 40 million times. The hashtag #stopkony has been trending on twitter all week long. The strategy is to make Kony famous in 2012 thereby shining a light on all of these atrocities and inciting, willing, international action against him.
I knew very little about Kony until I received an email from my friend Rachel that I had to watch the video and blog about it. It was her way to get me to push the message along (which, by you reading this, I am doing). I have read about children soldiers in both What is the What by David Eggers and A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah. Both stories are jolting. Like the film, it makes me question humanity. How are evils this horrifying allowed to occur in our world? Both books influenced my view of the world and the future of Africa.
The way Invisible Children has leveraged the power of social media to get their message out is absolutely brilliant. On their website it says that Invisible Children uses film, creativity and social action. While the cause is noble, the video well produced, it is the distribution that is truly staggering. Every single marketer in the world is drooling from this campaign.
This is the society as we live in it today. It is not a book, newspaper article or television segment that elicits emotion, action or produces change. It is the internet.
But this is not as simple as it appears. While Invisible Children seems like a noble cause there has also been tremendous controversy around the organization and the film. Some argue the film oversimplifies a complex issue. Personally, as I watched the film I thought it was heavy on fluff and light on facts and wondered how closely it depicts reality. As I’ve dug a few google searches deeper there is great debate about Uganda as well as Kony’s current role and his influence. Most of Northern Uganda is now free of any threat from the LRA. There is is also criticism out there over Invisible Children’s finances and that is has never been externally audited. The film is activism, not journalism. Is there a difference anymore?
In college I built a website for the local liquor store slash laundrymat and then launched littyhoops.com. It was such a powerful feeling. I am still amazed every time you read this blog. My voice is being heard by you. What is even more amazing is that it is also accessible to anyone in the world. I’ve always been fascinated by the power of the internet and the rate at which it advances. I still am. I’ve made it my livelihood. I’ve always argued that the digital world is neither good or bad for society. It’s just the way the world is now and will be in the future. The sooner you accept the reality the more effective you will be in life. It is uncomfortable. I sometimes run into people that are facebook holdouts and have yet to create their profile. My overwhelming reaction is that I lament that they don’t realize the world is passing them by.
I tip my hat to Invisible Children for figuring this out. As the narrator in the film and Invisible Children founder Jason Russell articulates, “the game has new rules”. He is right. It most certainly does.