Kony 2012 risks becoming a triumph of social networking rather than social consciousness.
On Monday I’d never heard of Joseph Kony. For most of Tuesday too, he was still a mystery. Then, last night a video titled ‘Kony 2012’ started appearing on my newsfeed.
This morning he was inescapable. Facebook and Twitter were filled with Kony’s name. As of writing, there have been over 250,000 tweets mentioning Kony in the past day.
For those who still haven’t seen ‘Kony 2012’, it launches a campaign to put pressure on governments worldwide to find, capture and try Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a Ugandan guerrilla group who forcibly abduct children to use as child soldiers.
It’s a powerful film, featuring images of children mutilated by the LRA and a harrowed victim, Jacob, describing his ordeal. Understandably, it has provoked a strong reaction from the online community.
But the success of ‘Kony 2012’ doesn’t mean people care. In fact, it shows how little we care. It took a flashy, social media savvy 30-minute film to make us care. I put my hands up, I didn’t care before seeing the film.
Of course the argument is that Kony has escaped justice precisely because of his low profile. After all, how can we care about the capture of a man we don’t know for crimes we’ve never heard of?
But there are many examples of widely publicised war crimes that many don’t seem to care about. Most recently, an article in the Independent described Syrian children huddled in rooms waiting to die at the hands of Assad. We care about the brutality in Homs, but it’s rare to hear of someone you know trying to help.
And why? Because no one has made an engaging video about these problems that makes social networking part of the solution. People don’t care until it’s ‘cool’ to care. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Exploiting people’s desire to fit in for charitable causes is much better than doing it to improve Nike’s image. But it doesn’t show real commitment.
It’s too early to tell whether the ‘Kony 2012’ campaign will really generate the kind of mass action it aims for. Over 14,000 have signed up to the London ‘Cover the Night’ event on Facebook, but that’s no guarantee of actual numbers.
I fear ‘Kony 2012’ will become just another fad, fading fast and leaving only a small core of those who really care. Remember the anti-racism bands that swept the nation in 2005, and the cancer bands that came shortly after? We didn’t cure cancer or eradicate racism, but nobody wears them today.
‘Kony 2012’ risks becoming a triumph of social networking rather than social consciousness.
What’s more, while raising awareness of the issue is commendable, Invisible Children, the charity behind the video, aren’t necessarily the best people to solve the problems.
Several concerns have been raised about the organisation, most seriously that they’re funding the Ugandan army and Sudanese People’s Liberation Army, both of which have been accused of rape and looting.
And while Joseph Kony’s capture would obviously help matters, we should also to kid ourselves into thinking it would ‘solve’ the problems facing East and Central Africa.
Decades of ethnic and religious tensions and competition for so called ‘conflict minerals’ have created much deeper problems in the area. A study last year found that 48 women are raped every hour in Congo. Clearly the country has more problems than just Joseph Kony.
I’m not saying ‘Kony 2012’ isn’t an incredibly worthy film, nor that Joseph Kony’s arrest isn’t a worthy goal, and I think doing something is better than nothing however big the problem.
But if people really care about human suffering I hope they realise that Africa’s problems are more complex than just one evil man and it will take more than just sharing videos online to make a difference.