The Kony 2012 thing

Joseph Kony. Despite my criticism of the Kony 2012, he should still be stopped.

I hate when that happens. You may have heard about Kony 2012. a very, very well publicized campaign to bring african criminal Joseph Kony to fame, so that the world knows about him, and push for his capture and arrest. I watched the video, and I got carried away. Go and watch the video if you want, but I would advise to do some reading beforehand. I won’t link it, it’s easy enough to find.

I thought, what a wonderful idea. Bringing someone to fame, for better or for worse, makes people feel like they know him. You can do even better and bring one of his victims to fame, which will make the experience even more personal. One of the big reason we as humans don’t care about the horrors happening to other people far away is because we are not familiar with them. But a well-told story has the power to change that.

When we heard of the tens of thousands of victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, it left us less emotionally involved than when we saw a reporter on site asking one of the survivors to tell us his story. Stories are very powerful, and the guys at Invisible Children understand that very, very well.

They also understand that we love to believe in humanity. We love to believe that the only thing holding our infinite compassion from reaching out to the horrors of the world is our lack of knowledge about them. We love to believe we can change the world, and we love to be part of something big.

I am not saying that any of these things are wrong, maybe just a bit naive. I am not advocating apathy either. However, I am pointing out how effectively these aspects of our psychology I mentioned can be used to manipulate us. I should know, I fell for it. This afternoon, after I finished watching the masterfully well-produced Kony 2012 video, I remember thinking the following things:

  • The guys who made this documentary are putting every single thing we know about effective outreach into it. It’s a textbook case of effective marketing. I didn’t think for a second that maybe it was too effective.
  • I have seen social media in action. Avaaz, OpenMedia, Project Democracy and LeadNow are all groups I support who’s been effective at gathering our voices and bringing them to politicians using social media.
  • Twitter definitely had a role to play during the Arab spring. Put these things together, and bringing Kony down by first making him famous sounds possible.
  • The whole thing reminds me of the hippies trying to stop the Vietnam war with bongos in the 60’s, but still, they didn’t have social media.

I should have stopped to think a lot harder about the first and last points. The thing is, 99% of the time someone comes up with with perfect marketing, he has been sacrificing honesty in exchange for effectiveness. If honesty was something that sold, the world would be a much better place. Also, the hippies in the 60’s maybe didn’t have social media, but they still had TV, radio and newspaper spreading around their concerns. They could organize pretty effectively, proven by their huge gatherings. If the hippies had social media would they have stopped the Vietnam war sooner? It doesn’t seem likely that it would have made any difference.

The most critical point I need to make is this. Kony 2012, by appealing so strongly to our emotions, prevents us from thinking clearly and looking for more information. They make us feel like we know everything we should know about Kony, the people of Uganda, Invisible Children and the means to bring Kony to justice. They make us feel like there shouldn’t even be any deliberations about their motives. No, we need to act now, all the thinking has already been done (by us)! This should be a red flag. No geo-political situation is so simple that it can be explained in a 30 minute video. Avaaz and the other groups I mentioned take the time to provide links to more information for their campaigns.

I surely wish the form of terrorism that Kony is perpetrating would end. It is frankly disgusting. But I still got out of the Kony 2012 bandwagon (I only briefly jumped in). Look for more information on the issue. There are reasons to be critical of the motives and actions of Invisible Children. Getting rid of Kony will be as effective at stopping the child abductions as killing Bin Laden have been at ending terrorism in the middle-East. One man alone cannot be responsible for 60,000 abductions. There’s a whole operation going on there. Stopping Kony won’t put an end to it. Here is a link where you can find a lot more information.

Just an aside, I got tipped to the Kony 2012 story on Twitter by Justin Trudeau tweeting under the hashtag #StopKony. I didn’t even notice he was already telling us to think critically about this:

One of my friends warned me that the whole Kony 2012 thing was fishy. It reminds me how lucky I am to have friends capable of thinking critically, and not afraid to tell me when I am wrong. It also reminds me how much more effective we are at thinking critically as a group, when we don’t hold back from pointing the flaws in the reasoning of each other. Imagine that on a large scale in our societies. That would be real, permanent change.

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