An Evaluation Of Invisible Children's KONY2012 Campaign

Last night, around midnight, I decided to finally watch the newly-viral Kony video after it appeared for the sixth time on my Facebook feed. I’d spent over an hour perusing videos of puppies playing with babies that day, so I figured I should probably make time for a video that promised to raise awareness about child soldiers in Uganda. You know, so I don’t go to hell. I clicked play.

Thirty minutes later, I was floored. The video was well produced and incredibly compelling, eliciting what I can only describe as a visceral emotional response. Per the videos instructions, I reposted on my Facebook and Twitter immediately and I honestly would have pulled out my wallet to make a donation or buy a bracelet, had I not lost my credit card at a bar two days earlier (I know, I know). I went to bed feeling hopeful, hopeful that we were finally starting to use social media for something more noble than wishing Justin Bieber a happy birthday and hopeful that this campaign could garner enough attention to propel further action in Uganda and bring the war criminal Joseph Kony to justice.

When I got online at work today, however, it seemed like the mood surrounding the Kony2012 video had changed drastically. I saw a post from The Daily What show up across all my social media platforms with surprising frequency; a post which calls Invisible Children Inc. “an extremely shady nonprofit” and admonishes people for blindly forwarding a video that equates to little more than “emotional blackmail.” The Daily What writer primarily criticizes IC for not being financially transparent, for using the majority of donations for travel expenses, producing films, and funding the largely-corrupt Ugandan military, instead of actually helping victims by rebuilding schools and hospitals. The article urges readers to send their money elsewhere.

After reading that and other dissenting articles, I was pretty embarrassed. I felt like I’d jumped on a bandwagon without knowing where it was going and I hurriedly deleted the Kony videos I’d posted the night before. But I wasn’t about to repost the opposing Daily What article in its place either. I think in the same way it’s popular to get behind a charitable cause without doing all your research, it is also popular to condemn causes which get so much rapid attention that they seem like nothing more than fads. (“Kony2102? Too mainstream.”) Harlan Ellison once wrote, “You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.” So, before I went posting something willy-nilly (again) I decided to get educated first, spending the entire day researching all sides of the Kony issue. Here is what I ended up with:

Joseph Kony is an appalling human being; about this there is no debate. Over the last 26 years, Kony has abducted thousands of children into his rebel group, the LRA, forcing them to work as either sex slaves or soldiers, and is responsible for countless murders. There are, however, many questions surrounding the immediate threat posed by Kony today — many say that his power has waned so considerably in the past decade that the United States’ resources would be better focused elsewhere. In my opinion, this question of “Is Kony the most important thing to worry about right now” doesn’t invalidate the cause. I can see how it might be frustrating that the multitude of problems we have going on here in the U.S. are being upstaged by a viral video, but that doesn’t mean that people are wrong for wanting to bring a villain like Kony to justice. Advocates for Kony’s arrest are fighting to make the world a better place; you can’t fault them for wanting to focus on something that you personally don’t think is as important as something else. Who is to make that call anyway?

The other pressing matter that has arisen, however, is what it means to “Stop Kony” exactly, and how we should go about doing it. Invisible Children favors direct military intervention and has pledged their financial support to the Ugandan army as well as various other military forces. While I agree it’s tempting to want to find and kill Kony as punishment for his heinous misdeeds, I can’t help but feel there’s a better approach. In the aftermath of genocides and human rights abuses in places like South Africa, Rwanda, and Burundi, IGOs established Truth and Reconciliation Committees. These committees compel war criminals to turn themselves in with the promise of amnesty upon their admission of wrongdoing and their pledge (often taken in monetary form) to help rebuild the society they destroyed. Many consider this method to be sort of a copout, one that allows perpetrators to go unpunished; yet setting up a TRC would mean lessening the risk that military intervention would spark further conflict and lead to more deaths. And honestly, which would you rather have: a dead Kony that does nothing to restore the lives of his victims, or a Kony who is completely stripped of his power and has all of his assets seized and put toward creating schools and providing care to the injured? This is where I most disagree with Invisible Children’s plan of action.

So, will I be buying a Kony Bracelet and donating money to Invisible Children? Probably not. Personally, after reviewing the facts, I think my money would be better spent by a NGO like Doctors Without Borders or Africare, so that when displaced Ugandans return home, it’s a place worth coming back to. But, does that imply that I think it’s wrong or irresponsible to send out a video that educated over 20 million (and counting!) people on an injustice happening abroad, just because the charity behind it isn’t completely perfect? Absolutely not! I don’t think anyone who posted the Kony video on Facebook now thinks of themselves as a social activist, and I think it’s wrong to reprimand people for becoming educated and then following up by spreading awareness. No matter how you feel about IC, they’ve clearly succeeded in their mission of making Kony famous, and finally igniting a dialogue on the internet with greater significance than Kim Kardashian’s sex life, for example. So for that, I applaud them and everyone who took the time to watch the video and share it. Their hearts were in the right place and I think that’s always the first step toward changing the world for the better. TC mark

image – Kony2012

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  • B.

    excerpt from official response”…And we still don’t want war. We don’t want him killed and we don’t want bombs dropped. We want him alive and captured and brought to justice.”

    • Meg

      unfortunately,  a single sentence does not do justice with the depth and complications of the problems in Uganda.  do not forget, the forces that are against Kony are noted to be corrupt in different, yet still terrifying ways. please research the treatment government backed forces give their own civilians.

      I don’t mean to take away the absolute horrendous actions of Kony, but to suggest the situation is far more complicated and dangerous than many believe.

  • Rkatie85

    I couldn’t have said it better!!

  • Tiffany

    I really appreciate your perspective. I posted this on my personal Tumblr and I hope you don’t mind if I just copy and paste it again here:

    The frustrating thing is that, yes, people thought that re-blogging and re-tweeting and clicking buttons on the internet was enough and that they were “making a difference,” but as soon as they caught whiff of stuff like Visible Children (which, by the way, provides equally misleading viewpoints about Invisible Children), they started deleting those tweets and blog posts and “canceling” their desire to see Joseph Kony brought to “justice” (whatever that really means…).I find it especially frustrating because hearing an opposing view and taking it at face value is no better than watching IC’s viral video and taking it at face value. OF COURSE global issues are complicated. Of course they are. There are various political agendas and infrastructures and alliances and hierarchies and power struggles and histories and context that you have to account for. No solution is complete and perfect in and of itself, and sometimes you have to just go with whatever option is best. It sucks to see people embracing and, just as quickly, dismissing causes that are still relevant and important but perhaps not in the way that they originally thought.The capture of Joseph Kony isn’t going to revolutionize the world. Putting one man in jail will not make everything okay. If he’s found, he’ll end up in a padded, cushy prison for the rest of his life. The point is not just to find Joseph Kony, but to do something beyond that, and I think that’s something many many many people are losing sight of. We can’t just get so caught up in The Cause and forget the human aspect of it. I hate that this whole thing has turned into an actual trend. Someone on Twitter said that it was “Save Darfur” all over again and unfortunately, based on the mainstream response to this, I completely agree.

    • Tiffany

      Aw nuts. Formatting fail.

  • Amy V

    Great article. I had almost the exact same experience with the video, watching it around midnight and all. But I planned to wait to give until I could research the company a little more. Thank you for having that information, and for recognizing that wanting to change the world is the first step, even if you take a few stumbles on your way there. 

  • angelusgutmann

    What a nice point of view! Though, maybe, we should be more critical with Invisible Children if they, in fact, manage their charity resources so badly… Still, the article is very, very nice.

  • Nkarlyn86

    PERFECT. Thank you.

  • LR

    I have to say that i think you are thinking TOO much.
     You don’t choose where you are born. If you were in Africa and this happened to you, wouldn’t you hope that someone with a bigger voice stood up for you?
    In my honest opinion, I think that you dislike “going with the crowd” so much that you are just finding reasons to disagree.
    The crowd is right this time.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Hannah-Moire/100002582319456 Hannah Moire

      I think you’re missing the point.

    • sum

      BAM!! You got it. 

  • jillmac826

    “Their hearts were in the right place and I think that’s always the first step toward changing the world for the better.”

    I think this is the most important part to all of this.  When I watched the video I didn’t take it as a huge ploy to get people to donate, though with any organization, generating donations is important.  It makes me sad to see all of these blogs and people out there trying to disprove IC and cast doubt on their devotion and intentions with this cause.  I have followed the Invisible Children movement since its inception, and it has been quite possibly THE most instrumental organization in spreading awareness in what has been happening in Uganda.  These men, whom I’ve seen speak on a number of occasions, are some of the most dedicated and devoted people I’ve ever met.  I think one of the biggest messages they’re trying to get out is to spread AWARENESS that Joseph Kony is out there.  Knowledge is power.  And the key to bringing about change in this world is information.  And as far as I’m concerned, with more than 32 million video views in just two days, Invisible Children foundation has done a pretty incredible job.

  • Dclabrado

    Just because a moderately well produced video went viral on YouTube doesn’t mean you are now “in tune” with the suffering of others. This is happening all over the world. In some places you can see it more than others (Syria). You didn’t give a shit before. The most you’ll do is just watch, and you know it. Just like any TV show you watch on a daily basis. How is this any different?So forget you saw anything. Give it a few hours. You will settle back into your comfortable apathy and your sudden, shocking awareness of the rest of the world will subside. There will be some new video for your consuming pleasure tomorrow.

    • jillmac826

      “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can
      change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

      Your cynicism is sad.  But you seem very comfortable reveling in it.

    • matt good

       that reeks of bitterness

  • Welder1971 Lb

    I think the main thing here is the need to use social networks as something more than a means to see kids and cats doing silly things that make us laugh. If the people succeed in this then there is no telling what the human race can achieve. These kind of viral splurges are sometimes mean but many times they can make a change no matter how small. It feels like the power is finally coming back to everyday folk who for many years just had to take what ever the media told them. The web is a means to finding information and people who have similar ideas to your own and this helps to create groups who, when they focus their time and energy can be heard.
    I became interested in social networks because of the possibility it offered to speak to people around the world and listen to the stories they have to tell.
    Before posting the videos from IC on FB, G+ etc, looked at the way my money would be spent should I decide to donate.

  • Bridget

    YES. My thoughts exactly. I posted the video along with many others after I couldn’t stop watching at midnight. I had a visceral reaction to this well made documentary, and I too find that no one should be judged or reprimanded for that. It was as if Uganda was some indie band and hipsters were pissed off for it going mainstream. I’m pretty sure people didn’t post the video to prove that they were more of an activist than their other facebook friends. For people to assume that is not only ignorant, but incredibly sad and tasteless. Are we at the point now where people shit on others for trying to do something decent via social media? Are we that egotistical? The point is, people were ignorant to this situation and now they aren’t. Isn’t that called human growth? Isn’t knowledge power? And no one is saying that this is the greatest non profit organization to ever exist. The tactic that is used is unique and relevant to our time now. Why not sit back and applaud this experiment? 

    Excuse me for channeling  my favorite blogger on here, Ryan O’Connell, but those that are judging people for spreading the Kony video, were you in Uganda helping these kids? Because then you would have a point. #NOTclearOn

    • Tiffany

      You have to stop and consider what “knowledge” actually is, though. Knowledge is different from awareness. Arguably, IC’s documentary left out a LOT of important context and facts that do matter when you’re trying to address such complicated issues.

      • Bridget

        Absolutely. The point is, there is discussion now about this issue. This video has become the catalyst of that discussion. One might argue a discussion that needed to take place about 20 years ago. And as many others have pointed out, a problem that lingers in other places as well, especially Syria. Not enough people pay attention, and is it sad that Facebook is the cause of this movement? Absolutely. However, that doesn’t make it wrong. 

  • Elaine

    the point is this is an important issue that needs to be addressed, BUT let’s not blindly donate money to a charity that is bad at managing that money. 

    Also, let’s make information surrounding the turmoil in Uganda famous..not Invisible Children. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=532223255 Nicolle Fieldsend

    I completely agree with this article. It isn’t wrong that more people are becoming aware of the situation, quite the opposite, but the way they are going about taking down Kony is wrong. I love your suggestion of making him repay society, he may not reform but he will certainly help rebuild the lives of those he destroyed. 

  • Anonymous

    I want to clear some things up before I get accused of being a Joseph
    Kony sympathizer.  I believe that Joseph Kony is a terrible man that
    has done deplorable things to the people of Africa.  I’ve known about
    him and the things he has done since I was in 8th grade – ergo this
    isn’t the first time I’ve heard of him.

    I believe that while awareness is a good thing, it doesn’t
    necessarily lead to change and or action.  You aren’t doing anything,
    really, by retweeting a “KONY 2012” tweet, or reblogging the youtube
    video or posting something about KONY 2012 on your facebook.  If you
    actually want to do something and take action,write to your Senator or
    Representative.  Call them up and tell them you have concerns about
    Joseph Kony and his child army.  Organize protests and marches.  Do
    something rather than passively sit on your ass and spread shit around
    the internet.

    There are thousands of things that America can solve but there comes a
    certain point when we need to ask ourselves, “At what cost?”  There are
    39.1 million Americans that live in hunger insecure households.  We
    have a 14+ trillion dollar deficit.  We live in a country in which gays
    and lesbians are still Second Class Citizens.  Why do we always focus on
    every other countries problems when we have thousands of problems at
    home?

    There are hundreds of studies that show that Americans have low
    retention rates when it comes to crisis.  We like to sit on our lazy
    asses, reblog a picture and call ourselves “aware.” Have you even picked
    up a book about what’s going on in Uganda or did you educate yourself
    in a 30 minute youtube video? If you actually want to get rid of Kony, go to Africa, buy a fucking gun and kill him.

    If you want a case in point about how action leads to results – look
    at the Arab Spring Movement.  They didn’t just tweet about the
    injustices going on in their countries, they fought back and overthrew
    their governments.  That’s how justice gets served – that’s how
    movements work.

    I hope for the sake of the children in Africa that Kony is stopped
    and his 20,000 child soldiers get freed.  But, even if that happens, a
    large majority of you will forget all about Africa and the injustices
    going on there.
     

    • JoeThePlumber

      I know I’m going to.

  • Anonymous

    Geeezzz at least somebody spoke up, at least somebody had the guts to TELL the world about it and stand up for themselves… 8 years of hard work and if 31% is going to Uganda well that’s better than 0%. Have you ever try running a non-profit… Trust me is not a piece of cake and it takes courage, it takes MONEY, and it takes a lot of guts to do it. These children need to be seen, and I’m pretty sure this is not only happening in Uganda, so now you tell me how are you going to help? Probably by tomorrow you will forget about the issue and move on with your life, and guess what you didn’t even help, you complained about the organization and thats as far as you got…. 

  • http://michaelpaulschneider.com Michael Schneider

    A Little confused here -what do you disagree with? IC’s plan is to have Kony arrested and tried for his crimes…not kill him. 

    • A L D

      The violent conflict that will have to take place in order to make that happen.

      • http://michaelpaulschneider.com Michael Schneider

        ALD – are you the article author? (not being sarcastic)

        Either way – to your statement…what would the alternative be? 

      • Omar

        ALD says that because it’s rather easy to get that conclusion from the article.  

        This bit from the 6th paragraph answers all your questions: 

        “Invisible Children favors direct military intervention and has pledged their financial support to the Ugandan army as well as various other military forces. While I agree it’s tempting to want to find and kill Kony as punishment for his heinous misdeeds, I can’t help but feel there’s a better approach. In the aftermath of genocides and human rights abuses in places like South Africa, Rwanda, and Burundi, IGOs established Truth and Reconciliation Committees. These committees compel war criminals to turn themselves in with the promise of amnesty upon their admission of wrongdoing and their pledge (often taken in monetary form) to help rebuild the society they destroyed.”

      • http://twitter.com/wesleethomas Weslee Janisen

         Ha, thank you mnvkeg!! I had started typing out my response, but then I was like, “Ugh, if you want to know, go back and look at the article I spent hours writing!” Thanks for highlighting the appropriate paragraph :)

      • Omar

        No problem, helping people understand this issue better really resonates with me for some reason, and your article is one that does a great job of explaining why supporting IC is wrong despite possible good intentions.

      • famore

        I know I’m not saying the author is crazy, I’m reply to his statement that people are just trying to spread awareness and not just bc they think it makes them look informed. 

  • beekers03

    I lovelovelove MSF (Doctors Without Borders)!! They’re very transparent about their financials and I’m very humbled by such intelligent, talented individuals volunteering their precious skills to those in need. 

    Loved the article as well. 

  • http://twitter.com/courtleee courtleee

    Too bad nobody has seemed to mention the children soldiers in Latin America, recruited by rebel forces, who are rebelling against governments the Great Ol’ U. S. of A helped to put in power. Trolololol.

  • http://twitter.com/Amphx AnnaMariaPhilippeaux

    Your second paragraph was my EXACT reaction and response to the video. Of course, I immediately reposted the video on Twitter without even thinking to examine the issue further, as you have done here, so I’m very grateful to have read this. Not that this issue does not deserve the attention it’s receiving, but if everyone just did what I did yesterday, no one would have enough information to truly understand its complexity. Well done!

  • Sum

    You watch a video, are completely moved and inspired by it (like many others, including myself) immediately post it to your facebook and then get turned off by the fact that others are, or that others criticize it, so you immediately delete it?  I DON’T CARE IF ANYONE CRITICIZES A PLAN TO PUT A MAN TO JUSTICE, I WILL SUPPORT THAT VIDEO, AND THAT CAUSE. 

    You can find problems with ANY cause that comes forward and grabs your heart and inspires you to do something.  The question is… when are we going to stop making excuses and just see the issue at hand, and do something.  Let’s do SOMETHING… and let’s start here. 

    • Omar

      While I agree with you (and many others) that bringing some sort of justice to Joseph Kony, I can’t help but feel as if your comment is blindly advocating Invisible Children’s plan and encouraging others to do so as well.  In the case of financially supporting Invisible Children, “doing something” is to help perpetrate violence in an area that’s seen horribly violent wars, genocides, etc. over and over for years. 

      If you ask me, that’s very just criticism and exactly the reason why any plan of such magnitude needs to be thought out before just “doing something” because the cause grabbed our hearts. 

  • http://twitter.com/mingusss mingus

    I feel like all the western organisations dedicated to “eradicating poverty” in Africa are just an extension of the white supermacist belief that POC are inherently weak/stupid and need help from white people, because white people somehow know best. If these organisations really cared, they would let Africans speak for themselves instead of trying to speak for them. 
    I mean they want to raise awareness but yet they don’t mention any of the Ugandan women and men who have been trying to take out  Kony of years, people like Betty Bigombe. 

    • guest

      Why waste time talking about people who have failed? That’s like saying “We need to build this bridge because Tony has been trying for years and hasn’t done it”, that would make an even more feasible example for your white supremacy bullshit. Honestly people help the African nations because we have the resources to help, thus the responsibility to at least try. If we knowingly did nothing because we didn’t want to appear racist to you, then we would be no better than people causing the issues. Get over yourself, people help because it’s the right thing to do.

  • http://twitter.com/karinabthatsme Karina Briski

    I appreciate you taking time to write this piece; but I was disappointed to see that you chose to end your evaluation with that familiar First-World pat-on-the-head response that “at least their hearts were in the right place”. I know exactly what people mean when they say this, and it’s not untrue. But what’s MORE true is that we need people whose policy and money and practices are in the right place. We have enough right-leaning hearts, as the viral sharing of this exact video has shown. And while they may be good at spreading videos, they’re not so good at sticking with a cause a month, six months, or one year later. Remember Darfur? We need to stop assuming that “good hearts” excuse insufficient or worse, irresponsible programming, esp. when it’s dealing with an overseas issue which the majority of its backers will have relatively little to no understanding of. The “well-intentioned if uninformed” American is often who foreign NGOs will rely upon to sustain their irresponsible practices and more often than not, become corrupt, doing more damage to a region than good.
    Good intentions are fine for relationships and friendships. We don’t expect them to be enough for our own government or social agencies in America. It’s an insult to the very people we’re purporting to help when we assume it’s good enough for their’s. 

  • Tess

    I THINK WE NEED TO FOCUS ON WRITING OUR CONGRESSMAN AND CALLING POLITICAL OFFICES AND TELLING THEM TO GET IN THERE AND FIND KONY. DONT WORRY ABOUT DONATING YOUR MONEY BECAUSE IT’S A BIT SHADY BUT AT LEAST MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD. THATS THE POINT!! A NEW WAVE OF SOCIAL MEDIA BEING THE VOICE OF WHAT THE AMERICAN PEOPLE WANT. AND TELLING THE POLITICIANS ITS ABOUT THE MAJORITY NOW! 

    • mnvkeg

      I think you need to learn where the caps lock key is and not use it like that. Maybe that’s just me though.

      • Guestropod

        responsiblecapitalization2012

        stop at nothing

    • yandat

      PLEASE STOP YELLING IT MAKES IT DIFFICULT TO READ YOUR WORDS PLEASE STOP YELLING IT’S REALLY OBNOXIOUS TO WADE THROUGH A BLOCK OF TEXT AND I SHOULD SAY RIGHT NOW THAT I DIDN’T ACTUALLY GET THROUGH YOUR REPLY THANKS AND HAVE A NICE DAY!!!

  • Cde423

    I appreciated your piece, and your opinion. However, I am sick of seeing arguments against IC with the main focus being their budget. IC has openly posted their financials on their website. They are not ashamed nor are they being untruthful. The truth is, IC’s main focus is to help out those in Uganda. However, in order to do so, they need money. How do you get donations? By getting people to know about and believe in your cause. They money they spend on tours and films educates people, and exposes them to what is going on. People need to be educated and aware of it in order to help.

    • Gelo

      I think that the article isn’t saying that its bad that IC is asking for money, its more about how he doesn’t think that IC is spending its resources, not the budget. :D

    • Omar

      One of my biggest problems (and what I read the author’s main problem to be as well) with IC is that they spend their money on a bad plan of action: mainly, their funding of the Uganda military as a means of bringing justice. 

      That said, my main issue with IC is that supporting it now is akin to going to NYC to help the rescue mission on the 9/11 disaster.  The LRA is and has been beaten and pushed out of Uganda for coming up on 10 years now.  Even after driving Kony out of their country, the Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF) conducted raids into Congo where Kony was hiding to further destroy his military and free child soldiers and sex slaves, despite protests of the raids being illegal/acts of war on Congo by the rest of Africa.

      The real problem in Uganda isn’t Kony, the LRA, and child soldiers/sex slaves anymore.  It’s rebuilding a country, educating a people, and helping a frightened and war-torn area find peace, happiness, and trust in one another so they can stand proudly, on their own.

      I don’t support IC’s now nearly 10-years too late cause.  I believe instead in the cause of helping the Ugandan people finding their peace, happiness and trust.  I believe in helping them figure out how to rebuild their country and heal their recovered children so they can stand on their own as an independent, proud country.

  • SF

    Your commentary on Kony 2012 is obviously very thoughtful and intelligent: I agree with the high esteem you offered Doctors Without Borders but that organization’s mandate is different than the mandate of this campaign and there is a need for both campaigns to succeed. If you can only support one, support the one that resonates most with you/Doctors Without Borders; but, if you can support 2, support taking a soldier of Kony’s influence out of the ongoing struggle-war-genocide in Uganda. Is Kony the beginning and the end of the problem, no; but, he is significant enough that if removed this ‘genocide’ of Ugandas children will be slowed down, weakened, etc.

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