I, like probably many others reading this, logged onto Facebook last night and saw: “Amy Smith and 45 other friends shared a link ____” Linking us to the now incredibly viral Kony video made by an NGO, called Invisible Children. Invisible Children’s mission is defined as “A movement seeking to end the conflict in Uganda and stop the abduction of children for use as child soldiers.” Well, who can argue with that?
I had a lot of mixed reactions after watching the video, and then watching it spread across all of my social media websites. I felt sad and outraged for the children in the video. I felt excited by the sheer explosion of positive, social justice messages I was reading everywhere. But, as much as I hate to rain on the parade, I also felt uncomfortable by this giant social media “support.”
Remember SOPA and PIPA? The viral internet campaign to stop “evil” legislation that would “change the internet forever” ? I’ll be the first to say I signed that petition. The fact that Wikipedia was engaging in a political fight seemed incredibly motivating and exciting. Well, it wasn’t until a few days after everything blew over, the facebook statuses changed, the tweets switched topics, that I began to read some critical articles about the SOPA protests. (Here’s a good one)
What about the Planned Parenthood episode? That was the viral internet campaign of the beginning of February. I proudly signed that petition too. I shared in my fellow liberal peers’ indignation and anger at the audacity of Susan G. Komen’s foundation decision. I felt very sure of myself and my convictions that something very bad just happened. And when the Komen Foundation reversed their decision, I went to bed at night happy and satisfied. Justice had been served.
Well, it wasn’t until a few days after everything blew over, the Facebook statuses changed, the tweets switched topics, that I began to read some critical articles about the Planned Parenthood media coverage. (It’s not that I changed my opinion necessarily, I just had to admit I never really took the time to play a real devil’s advocate. ) Here’s a good one.
What have I learned from all of this?
1. Social media activism is a real, and powerful thing. It’s incredibly exciting and infectious.
2. Because it’s so easy to get swept up in the hype, critical thinking is very often put on the back burner.
Ok, now the Kony videos.
In a lot of ways I felt that same sort of excited, awestruck feeling I had with the SOPA and Planned Parenthood campaigns. Watching so many of my Facebook friends galvanized in support for a cause was great. It felt good to see Facebook and Twitter become tools for seemingly wonderful things.
But then I went and read more about Invisible Children, and found there’s actually a huge debate about all of this.
Visible Children, a Tumblr blog that has received a lot of attention, has questioned Invisible Children, asserting that its social media tactics aren’t the right way. “These problems are highly complex, not one-dimensional and, frankly, aren’t of the nature that can be solved by postering, film-making and changing your Facebook profile picture, as hard as that is to swallow.”
In November, a Foreign Affairs article challenged the methods used by Invisible Children that were trying to raise awareness in the region. “Such organizations have manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA’s use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony — a brutal man, to be sure — as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil,” the magazine wrote
And here is another interesting perspective I read. This guy says, “One problem: [The videos] fall into the trap, the belief that the problem is ignorance and the answer is education. When we tell more people about Kony and the LRA, something WILL happen. It’s not true. Bono, Bob Geldolf, Angelina Jolie and thousands of others have brought more attention, more education, more money to issues – it doesn’t solve them. White ignorance is not the problem… It is built on the idea that Africa needs saving – that it is the White man’s burden to do so. More education does not change the systems and structures of oppression, those that need Africa to be the place of suffering and war and saving.” He writes that if anything, this only further fuels our Western impression that Africa is a place just full of HIV, war, and famine.
We shall see what ultimately happens. I think that on one level its absolutely awesome that the world is banding together to rid the world of this terrible, immoral person. But I am also really hoping that this is not just the Internet flavor of the week. I am hoping that this is more than some sexy social justice cause. And I am also hoping that people who care about this issue will continue to read about it, think critically, and challenge institutions and even organizations like Invisible Children when they need to be challenged. It’s something I’m going to try to work on myself.