Kony 2012

Invisible Children, a San Diego-based charity recently uploaded a 30-minute video entitled “Kony 2012” to YouTube, which is intended to bring attention to the Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony whose violent parliamentary group has long been accused of using children as soldiers. Kony 2012 went “viral” last week, and as a result, the video has exceeded 76 million views. Obviously, this situation is a testament to the effectiveness of social media (and the Internet in general) in spreading awareness about world issues and international atrocities.

However, the video has garnered many criticisms. Some claim that the video deeply misrepresents “the current state of play, including the fact that Mr. Kony has largely been defeated and is in hiding. Others chafe at the implicit ‘white man’s burden’ message of the video – that Western outsiders, and only Western outsiders can remedy the situation.” Additionally, and probably one of the most important criticisms, is the video’s oversimplification, in which a complex situation is reduced “to the story of a single bad guy whose capture would magically restore harmony to a conflict-scarred region.”  Other experts say that videos like Kony 2012 that create “advocates for one side in an internal struggle in a foreign land, could lead to more intervention by the United States and other Western powers,” which can obviously have positive and negative implications. What are your views on social media campaigns like Kony 2012?


  1. As former President of International Law Society, I actually screened Invisible Children’s 2006 “Rough Cut” movie (which composes at least a quarter of the Kony 2012) for Genocide and Human Rights Awareness Week here on campus in January 2011. Almost no one came. [And, in fact, ILS made a concerted effort to invite Invisible Children to the event. They never bothered to respond.] Clearly, the Kony 2012 blows ILS’s efforts out of the water: by creating a slick, emotive 30 minute viral video, Americans now know who Joseph Kony is, and, to some extent, what he has done. While commendable, the film has also received a stream of criticism that seems well-deserved.
    It is important to put Kony into context in the international criminal law scene. The Special Court for Sierra Leone included the charge of recruitment of and use of child soldiers in ALL of the indictments it has issued, including and most notably against former Liberian president Charles Taylor, whose verdict is expected April 26, 2012. Of the 27 people against whom the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants, 5 in addition to Kony have been charged with the crime of recruiting and using child soldiers: Ntaganda, Katanga, and Ngudjolo of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); Vincent Otti and Okot Odhiambo, other Ugandan commanders of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Of the 6, only Katanga and Ngudjolo are in custody, with Otti presumed dead. Yesterday, the ICC found Thomas Lubanga Dyilo guilty of conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 and using them to actively participate in military hostilities in the DRC. Arresting, or even killing, Kony alone does not put an end to the recruitment of child soldiers.

    I am concerned with the likely short-term effect this video will have on the “Kony cause.” It feels good to ride the waves of goodwill that crest after a well-known international disaster or tragedy, but such surfing primarily benefits the givers. The cause du jour does not disappear when the support does. Take Haiti, for instance, which received a much-needed outpouring of financial aid in the wake of the 2011 earthquake but today is severely suffering from a lack of continued assistance. Or Darfur, whose genocide received so much attention in 2003, but today, despite the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the recent secession of South Sudan, is still embroiled in violent conflict and no longer receives the benefits of celebrity status.

    SUPPORT LONG-TERM EFFORTS THAT ADDRESS CONFLICTS IN CONCRETE, TANGIBLE WAYS. If you support U.S involvement in the search for Kony, petition our government to sign the Rome Treaty and to get behind the International Criminal Court to support greater accountability for crimes against humanity and genocide around the world. Donate to an organization like the Red Cross; donate to, or volunteer your time if you can, to an NGO. For instance, there is a large Darfuri diaspora throughout the United States. Organizations like the International Justice Project [http://www.internationaljusticeproject.com] do all they can to provide legal representation to Darfur victims as well as give access to medical and psycho-social support. Support organizations like the Center for Constitutional Rights that litigate human rights claims right here in American courts; right now, the Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum case is before the Supreme Court and its decision may determine whether the Alien Tort Statute, a statute that allows individuals to sue for violations of international law in U.S. courts, will survive.

  2. I think this video and this idea is great. It is a short documentary that is being spread on the internet. It is meant to empower those that watch it to try and help others. Sure it is rather one sided but that’s what can make a documentary made by an advocacy organization different than a new piece. It succeeds in making you react and want to learn more and that seems to be what it was intended to do. Also utilizing social media in this way can be very powerful. Although I still hesitate to trust that these websites are the new way to communicate actual information, I am seeing it at work often in such a way. Also, the nature of the internet is such that you only have to watch something if you want to and you can stop watching it when you want to. So, I am glad that this video is out there for people to learn from and as with learning about any topic, if you want to have a full understanding, you need to use other sources as well.

  3. When you type Kony 2012 into YouTube, how many videos display? Not only does the original video display but critics have their own videos. Social media may now be the fastest and most influential way to communicate messages especially amongst the younger generation. Even if you do not agree with the message being communicated, you can use the same source to show your opinion. But, social media also has its negatives. Unlike a campaign in the past, now any video you record will remain on the Internet continuously being replayed. A clip of an interview, television show, coming attraction, music video, speech, broadcast etc., which sparks any type of debate or controversy, will most likely be found on YouTube. But, if you want to spread a message, social media is a way to send your message further than you ever expected.

  4. I feel like social media can definitely help in spreading awareness about an issue as well as helping with fundraising aspects. However, I don’t really feel like it actually accomplishes any real results. Our generation is lazy and social media campaigns like this make us feel like we’re contributing and helping without doing much of anything. Because we feel like we’ve helped by watching a video or making a small donation, that’s enough for us and we leave the actual hard work to others. It can also cause us to lose focus on what the real issues at hand are. Even when a social media campaign goes viral and the internet blows up about it, people usually only get a small piece of the story. The same information gets circulated over and over, and we stop looking to see what there is going on behind it.

  5. Social media campaigns can be very effective in raising awareness to issues some people may be unaware of, but like any media, are susceptible to misrepresentations. To say that social media such as this are different than more traditional avenues of media in regards to such misrepresentations would be inaccurate. There is an inherent responsibility (Or we like to think there is) for the creators of media to consider how they are presenting an issue and how it may be perceived. A similar responsibility lies with the viewers of information they are viewing on media to further inquire about an issue they are newly exposed to, but the reality is most people won’t do so. People tend to believe what they see through media and any inquiry stops when the video stops or the TV shuts off. This is why we tend to hold the creators of media responsible for misrepresentations or any inaccuracies.

    To completely criticize this video for any perceived misrepresentations would be to go too far. Isn’t it better that the video has been viewed by so many people, many of whom may be largely unaware of the issues surrounding Uganda than for those same people to have never seen it? This thought I can agree with, but that is not to say that we cannot strive for more accurate portrayals of issues when using social media. It is better than nothing, but there is a lot of room for improvement.

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