Collective Action – Kony 2012

The last assigned post! This week’s discussion focused on the role of social media and activism, so fittingly the viral campaign Kony2012 will be discussed. Apparently I was the only person on the planet who hadn’t heard about Kony2012. It was one of the top viral videos of 2012, setting a record for the most views in one day. Well that explains why I hadn’t heard about it. I’m not a big YouTube follower (surprised?). So first off I watched the video. I can understand why it went viral. The video plays on people’s emotions with its talk about how we have the power to change things to prevent the atrocities to children taking place in Uganda. The director, Jason Russell, uses his own son, Gavin, throughout the film to contrast the difference in circumstances between the children in Africa and those in the west – child soldiers verses Jason’s cute, happy, bouncing son. Strengthening this idea the narrator states, “Kony abducts kids just like Gavin”. The video does present facts, photos of atrocities (face mutilations), as well as support from well know public figures. It also includes an expiry date for the film (hence the date in the title) which adds to the urgency of the need to act – here is what you need to do. It’s easy to see how the video went viral; no one likes to see this kind of thing happening especially to children. A quick click and you can send the video to all your friends – similar to the way that chain letters work, read this and pass it on to your friends and you’ll have good luck all day (or bad luck depending). It’s also a rah, rah, let’s get together and do something, video. It seems that no matter the idea, people like to participate in these social media phenomena as demonstrated by the popularity the recent Internet meme, Harlem Shake, and the many flash mob videos regularly appearing on YouTube. Not to make light of the situation, but I did have reservations by the time the video wrapped up, especially the idea of making Kony famous (infamous maybe, but not famous). However, the video did make me aware of the situation as well as making me what to delve a little deeper into the topic to find out if there was a resolution.

The second part of this week’s discussion was Ethan Zuckerman’s response to the Kony21012 video. I believe Zuckerman raises many valid arguments – foremost this is not the simple problem that’s presented in Koney2012. Zuckerman argues that the simplified version of events – the bad guy needs to be caught – is very one-sided and does not consider other relevant points such as the difficulty in finding Kony and bringing him to justice. Zuckerman’s concluding paragraphs nicely sum up the difficulty of activism and social media. Using the simplifying story did make it easy to raise awareness to the injustices being carried out, however explaining the situation in greater detail, “would be lots harder to share, much harder to get to “go viral”. In other words, without the video how many people would have ever heard about Kony? I suspect not as many as did through the video initiative.

There is further criticism about the Kony2012 campaign and its associated organization Invisible Children (see Zuckerman’s reference to Grant Oyston’s blog for other criticism), and while many valid arguments are made there is no doubt that the campaign did raise awareness and start many discussions. How can that be a bad thing?

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