Kony 2012 A protest movement for a new generation?

By Andrew Evans

Whether you like it or not, history was made last week.

Seemingly without warning last Tuesday, the anarchy that is the Internet – not the technology, but that indefinable, seemingly infinite social group spread across geography and generation – coalesced in a way it hasn’t since Rebecca Black told it to think about fun. Except this time, it did so over something substantive. And a week later, the ripples of that Tuesday haven’t completely dissipated, which seems like an eternity these days.

With the hindsight of only eight days, the Kony 2012 project – er, #Kony2012 – seems to be the tipping point when all the social media experiments of the last half-decade came together and absolutely caught fire. The 30 minute documentary is the fastest-growing viral campaign in history, according to web analysts Visible Measures. Of course, because we simply can’t have nice things anymore, the backlash on Wednesday was nearly as fervent.

To quickly summarize the millions of words written opposing the methods and message of Invisible Children, the non-profit organization behind the campaign – and please, go out and read some of them yourself:

  • Trying to boil down decades of conflict in central Africa to the actions of one man and his militia is dangerously reductive;

  • The forces of the Lord’s Resistance Army have largely moved out of Uganda and into the Central African Republic, a fairly crucial detail quickly brushed over in the film;

  • The film advocates for military intervention, and fails to point out that the Ugandan army isn’t exactly a bunch of angels, either;

  • The campaign is a classic example of both World Vision-style “poverty porn” and “slacktivism,” allowing Westerners to assuage their guilt by clicking a “Like” button;

  • and Invisible Children spends far too much of their revenues on film-making and travel expenses instead of ground-level programming in Africa.

See a response to these criticisms here.

I’m in no position to weigh the merits of these criticisms. (Though I will add that sending “military advisers” to aid in an internal conflict on another continent sets off warning bells to the Cold War junkie in me.)  I’m in the 99 per cent on this issue; I had little more than a cursory knowledge of Joseph Kony prior to reading Arrested Development star Jason Bateman’s tweet late Monday night. What I can tell you is I read as much as I could. I know approximately 38 times as much about the Lord’s Resistance Army than I did a week ago – and I’m still hardly any kind of expert.

“a generation rightly accused of apathy, ignorance and laziness can still be mobilized behind something that matters.”

What I do know is that what happened on the 6th was so grand in scope that bemoaning its flaws and dismissing it as a momentary blip on the cultural radar is to miss something actually kind of inspiring: that a generation rightly accused of apathy, ignorance and laziness can still be mobilized behind something that matters.

#Kony2012 overcame apathy by appealing to our empathy; it overcame ignorance by offering a clearly delineated outline of information; it overcame laziness by, admittedly, not requiring a whole lot of effort. And possibly above all, it appealed to our insatiable need to feel truly connected to something larger – a feeling increasingly difficult to achieve as our lives become further wrapped up in the deafening void of the Internet.

Sure, most people who viewed the video probably did nothing. At best, they Liked it or Tweeted it. But they shouldn’t be criticized for that, because that’s what the campaign asked them to do (along with donating to the cause and ordering an action kit). The point is to make a noise so loud that society’s decision-makers can’t ignore it, which has been the goal of social protest for as long as people have been protesting, um, socially. The Internet is our National Mall, our Speaker’s Corner. People criticize the web because it gives everyone a voice, a channel for broadcasting their opinion, well-informed or (more often) not. Not to sound like a man of high ideals – I’m not – but isn’t that the whole idea behind democracy?

We’ve rightly celebrated the revolutions of the Arab Spring, fuelled by technologies and networks that allowed oppressed voices to unite around their common interest. In a country much more akin to ours than Tunisia or Yemen, Germans successfully demanded that Chancellor Angela Merkel shut down the country’s entire nuclear program in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. Now, using a lot of the same tools, young people are calling for action against a tyrannical monster on the other side of the planet.

The Daily Show did an excellent segment on Monday critiquing the mainstream media’s response to the campaign, which apparently boils down to “But guys, we were telling you about him first!” It’s a clear illustration of the stubbornness of old media to recognize how drastically things have changed. Young people aren’t going to watch a 60 Minutes segment then run out to cover their campus in posters. They won’t phone – do people still “phone?” – their friends to tell them to tune in. They’ll Like something. Hopefully, they’ll also take five minutes to learn more about what they just Liked.

It’s encouraging that the #Kony2012 backlash came from the same place #Kony2012 did—blogs, independent voices, your friend who went to Africa one summer. It came through the channels we, as a generation, know. Wednesday was to clarification as Tuesday was to mobilization. Now, more than a month away from the climactic “Cover The Night” event on April 20th, there’s plenty of time to read, reflect and react to what Invisible Children has suddenly made very visible.

It’s easy to be cynical and write the whole thing off as a fad. It’s easy to point out that the information being spoon fed in the Kony 2012 video is – quite literally – meant to be understood by an elementary-school student. And it’s important to be wary of misinformation and manipulation. All that said, there’s nothing wrong with stepping back, looking at something rather remarkable and seeing something positive in it.

We aren’t exclusively a generation of slackers, Beliebers and cynics. Yeah, you might have to tweak us in just the right way to get our attention, but we still give a shit. Just because the Internet has made giving a shit as simple as one click of the mouse doesn’t mean it shouldn’t count.


Tags: , ,

Categories: Features, Issues


Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

One Comment on “Kony 2012 A protest movement for a new generation?”

  1. March 14, 2012 at 11:25 AM #

    Reblogged this on Andrew Evans Talks At You and commented:
    Scribbled some optimistic thoughts on #Kony2012 as a new model for protest.

Have your say, leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: