Collateral Damage – Kony 2012

March 15, 2012

By Matt Palmer

Since the release of the “Kony 2012” video last week by Invisible Children, lots of debate has ensued. Some have derided the video and IC for releasing an over-simplified and misleading call for military action against the LRA. Supporters say that Kony’s crimes are such that the ends justify the means. Rallying millions of supporters, getting them to click a you tube link makes this a noble cause. Bono even suggested Jason Russell should get an Oscar for the brilliance of the campaign. The campaign without a doubt has been brilliant in its ability to capture the conversation. Maybe the debate it has spurred outweighs any negatives.

What IC have achieved with their campaign is monumental. It has become the most watched viral video ever. Of course, we do not yet have statistics on how many people watched all 27 minutes of the video. One thing often over-looked in the social media world, it is very easy to get people to click a link, actual engagement is harder to measure. Retention rates do matter. Having four million likes on a Facebook page does not mean anyone comes back to visit. Wearing a t-shirt with Kony 2012 gives no indication of sophisticated knowledge of the issues.

One argument being used to support the criticism against the over simplification, is that simplicity of the message was key to the success. If we accept that may be true, how complicated is to say that Kony is no longer in Uganda, but is somewhere else? Does that really complicate or muddy the fact that this heinous group must be stopped? Where do we draw the line on obfuscation of the truth?

Regardless of how many people click on the video or subsequent videos made by IC, how do we really measure the success of the campaign? Kony being captured? Kony being killed? How will impacts on those in Uganda be measured, if at all?

The impacts on those in Uganda should be primary concern. Some argue the video was made to mobilize American youth. It tells the story of a white America relating the story of Kony to his young son. The video details some of the work IC has done over the last eight years, and we see them lobbying in Washington. The focus is on the strategic plan to make Kony the biggest celebrity in the world, by enlisting movie stars to get their fans to support. The most powerful voice in the video is Jacob. One of Kony’s victims. Other than his story, the video focuses on Jason Russell, certainly a brave and committed man, as he works to raise awareness for about the horrible atrocities committed by Kony and the LRA.

Yesterday, they attempted to screen the film for 35,000 people in Northern Uganda. People were excited to see the story that the world is talking about. They wanted to see their story. What they got was mostly the story of a white guy launching a campaign to put the perpetrator of vicious crimes against them on every street post and t-shirt in America. The result, according to reports, was anger.

Is this type of collateral damage on victims okay in the pursuit of a criminal? As you will see in the news report I have posted below, some victims find putting Kony’s face on t-shirts and posters offensive.

Kony has laid waste to community after community wherever he goes. With this video that damage may well continue, digging the wounds deeper.

In the interview with the Invisible Children, their spokesperson says the campaign is intentional. Were the victims consulted in the design of the campaign and making of the video? What about the people in the villages that were affected? What about the people in the countries that the LRA are now operating? How do the people currently being terrorized feel about being left out of the story?

What can we do to help limit the collateral damage from what is happening? How can we help those who want to get engaged become better educated about the complexity of the issues facing the people of Uganda, Congo, Rwanda, Sudan?

Ultimately, the people of Uganda, Congo, Rwanda need to be engaged in the solutions. Does a military pursuit of the LRA undermine the reconciliation and repatriation of child soldiers within their communities? Rwanda has had good success with this strategy, but the Kony campaign could derail efforts in Uganda. I say, let the people there help craft and drive the strategy for moving forward, and we supply skills and support where appropriate.

Please watch this news report of the screening yesterday in Uganda from Aljazeera.

About Unintended Consequences Documentary Project

I'm Producing and directing a multi-platform documentary project on global energy called "Unintended Consequences".
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