A video goes viral thanks to the efforts of a charity and a few million facebook savants who are seemingly intent on bringing an end to impunity for a perpetrator of an armed conflict, which has been ensuing for years in a part of the world that is usually forgotten until such news or videos goes viral. The use of facebook and twitter as social awareness tools has been growing exponentially in just a few years. Used widely by charities and news media to share the world’s events as it happens, facebook and twitter have rapidly accelerated the way news is shared. In light of the newest viral video, KONY 2012, this social awareness frenzy raises the question: are viral videos the most effective way to raise awareness?
Joseph Kony is the alleged Commander-in-Chief of the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) which, as a group, is responsible for the killings, kidnappings, and mutilations of tens of thousands of people as Reuters Africa reports. The militia was started out of rebel uprisings in the late 1980s in response to the newly elected Museveni government’s heavy handed response to Northern Uganda. Out of the number of rebel groups that fought against the national government, the LRA was the only group to successfully occupy and take control of the region. In the 1990s the LRA continued to leash violence in the region eventually spreading into neighbouring states, the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) and Sudan. In the 2000s when news of the atrocities hit first-world ears, the celebrity world made its first plea to the Ugandan government to stop to the violence. As a counterinsurgency measure the Ugandan government forced the region’s population into mass displacement in what Foreign Affairs likens to concentration camps.
There, they were poorly protected from attacks, and faced dreadful living conditions. A study carried out under the auspices of the World Health Organization in 2005 found that there were 1000 excess deaths per week in the Acholi region.
The figures of deaths, mutilations, rapes, slavery, and displacement are highly contentious. There remains no calculable way to determine just how many people suffered and died at the hands of the LRA or the government’s counterinsurgency.
In 2005 the ICC (International Criminal Court) issued arrest warrants for Joseph Kony and top ranking leaders in the LRA. Kony’s arrest and trial at the ICC is crucial for international law to pursue justice and set precedent on the counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes for which he is wanted.
The Viral Video
In a matter of a couple of days Invisible Children has been successful at making their 30min ‘experiment’, as the narrator and film maker Jason Russell describes it, a social media overload. Calling itself ‘KONY 2012’ the campaign aims at charging people with ‘making Kony famous’. It points a solitary finger at Joseph Kony and charges the world with making him a household name which Russell believes can bring him to justice by the end of 2012.
The film itself is based on appeal to human emotion and empathy. After watching the film a number a times and looking beyond the fancy graphics and melancholy music, you can see a strategic offensive which any leader able to enrapture the interest of the masses can do, and has done in the past. The film beings with placing an onus on the viewer- “humanity’s greatest desire is to respond and connect”, “we share what we love”- and in imploring your humanity implies if you don’t share, you don’t love. In between interviews, facts sharing, and images of youth activists Russell uses interviews with his son to demonstrate how even a child can understand the simplicity of the message- perhaps too simple?
Already critics have voiced their opinions on the video, the creator himself and the organisation. Almost immediately after the video went viral, a blog in rebuttal to the video also went viral. Visible Children, provides a cross analysis of what the KONY 2012 video claims, and also investigates the charity and Russell. A number of media sources including Foreign Policy and NPR have claimed that Invisible Children have misused and misrepresented statistics and facts for strategic purposes. If you watch till the end of the video those strategic purposes are as basic as a publicity and fundraising campaign for the organization; then if you watch the video again the strategic purpose is akin to the American mega-church ritual of emote and enlist.
Some argue that at the end of the day an issue that needs attention is being spoken about, that what would have otherwise been ‘not my problem’ is facing individuals directly in the face. But is this best way to do it? Most people who have either liked or reposted the video are hardly aware of the facts that relate to the LRA, their uprising, and the role of the ICC. One person I spoke to, who avidly reposted and commented ferociously on the video, could not even restate what the ICC acronym stood for; she could only recite that Kony was a bad person that needed to be brought to justice and the only way to do so would be by sharing the video.
It is important that we engage with world issues; that we become aware and take protracted steps to truly make a difference. Just as the Russell claims, education is key, but reposting videos under a ‘group-think’ mentality will hardly educate the populous. Becoming knowledgeable about the history of the crisis, the role and responsibilities of the ICC, and the position of your nation state in relation to ICC is crucial if true justice is to be served.
Today the video has been seen over 20 million times in just three short days, but in two months when the guerilla postering is set to take place, will the 20 million viewers even remember what they viewed, or will it have disappeared like old news down the timeline of their facebook wall?