Monday, April 16, 2012

To join Kony 2012, or not to join?

Let’s get one thing straight: Joseph Kony is a bad man. A very, very bad man. Thanks to the founders of the Invisible Children, whose goal is to bring to light the horrifying atrocities committed by the South African terrorist leader, anyone with access to the internet and a Facebook account can pretty much agree to this fact. What was once barely covered in traditional news has now become widespread opinion because of their use of alternative media campaigns. Invisible Children’s most recent strategy has been in the Kony 2012 video that went viral within days of its release onto the internet. In the 30 minutes it outlined the most compelling call to action for all social media enthusiasts. I mean, it is hard to argue against a man who has not only included in his video the heart-wrenching testimonial from a former LRA soldier, but who has also enlisted the help of his ever-so-adorable five year old son to drive the point home. And they were highly successful—at least, for the first couple of weeks.

However, since its popularity grew, Invisible Children has been under heavy fire. Youtube commentators along with mainstream media have done their best to highly publicize the dirt recently pulled up on the foundation and its leaders. Before long, Invisible Children had turned from a revolutionary charity, which would make a huge difference in the world, to one that had lost much of its credibility. However, what has remained constant through all these turn of events is the idea that Joseph Kony is still a very, very bad man. Notice that most critiques of the Kony 2012 movement, just like this one, begin with that disclaimer. So although they still back the charity’s initial goal, what is the real reason for people so quickly turning their backs on Invisible Children?

It is because no one likes being viewed as a product. Now, although the organization made a valiant effort to take advantage of new forms of communication to spread their cause, they still had a very old fashioned idea of how people passively receive media. Invisible Children had an inspiring message, but as soon as they explicitly tried to lay claim over people’s social media habits, they were basically asking for heavy backlash. They attempted to gain control over internet users for use as their own weapon, and many people were simply unwilling to become a victim of “the hype.” So people used their own investigative power, through platforms such as tweeting, blogging, and vlogging, to question the organization and the online movement that they felt threatened by. It wasn’t long before they had found what they were looking for.

This is similar to Axel Brun’s description of tactical media, and how users of a guerilla media strategy often have a temporary place as second-tier media sources. They attempted to start a political movement by exploiting the current media paradigm in aggressive ways, lacking both the experience and authority necessary to become trusted sources of information. So what’s the lesson here? If you are trying to get that kind of power in our age of free-flow information, you had better have a spotless record—which we see now that they did not. Basically, instead of being the answer to Invisible Children’s ultimate goals, their popularity had backfired on them.

Now, although Invisible Children still has the support of millions, their aim to completely dominate the internet was definitely short-lived. These days, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and they could not assume that just because they made a fairly informative and emotional video people would not do research of their own and formulate rebuttals. Audiences now have a say in what is considered “proper” media, and are distrustful of anyone who would appear to take that away from them, or, in this case, would render them voiceless in an online movement. Regardless of whether or not the accusations of Invisible Children are true or not, as proponents of new media, they have a challenge ahead of them if they wish for their Kony 2012 campaign to move beyond what could become just a momentary fad of activism.

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1 comment:

  1. This is a great posting on a topic that relates to a number of digital journalism themes (citizen journalism, digital storytelling, etc.), and your third paragraph is particularly good where you point out that Invisible Children was still stuck in broadcast ideology and wasn't prepared to have people investigating their claims through tweeting, blogging, and vlogging channels. As I said in class, it is often good to use images and links in the text of your posting to make it not only more vivid and informative but also more likely to be read. You might also want to check out Sam Gregory's oft-cited piece on the Kony 2012 phenomenon: