When the Kony 2012 video first appeared, I had no interest in viewing it. A couple months before, there was something on Facebook about starving children in Africa, or something. I don’t remember what exactly. Anyhow, I felt it was a worthy cause, whatever it was, and decided to donate some cash. How much? I don’t recall that either. My point is, if I really cared about this event, cause, issue, scam, whatever; I probably would’ve donated more than a couple dollars. I would’ve donated my time and energy.
This is common criticism of online activism. Many of you donated your time and money to capture Kony in 2012. You made him famous, which was part of the plan, but where’s Joseph Kony now? The staff of Invisible Children doesn’t know either. Supposedly, over 10 million dollars went to the makers of the video. Not ten days after releasing it, the director, Jason Russell, had a mental breakdown and was caught masturbating in public.
Call me cynical, but now I dismiss every avatar changing, world saving, “click this” activism as the latest fad. There are indeed worthy causes and many pressing issues that deserve the attention of the global community, but it’s getting increasingly harder not to feel a little skeptical.
On the other hand, what Kony 2012 was able to do is amazing and admirable. Jason Russell and the Invisible Children were able to accomplish things that many documentary filmmakers aspire to, myself included. They made a film, posted it on YouTube and reached millions. Furthermore, they were able to motivate and empower the average citizen to take action. No, Kony hasn’t been captured yet, but according to their website, the killing of civilians dropped 67% from 2011 to 2012. The U.S. Senate passed a Kony 2012 resolution that condemned the Lords Resistance Army. Their message even reached the White House. On January 15thof this year, President Obama signed the Rewards for Justice Bill into law aimed at arresting Joseph Kony. They opened a number of rehabilitation centers and radio stations in Uganda. But their greatest accomplishment is making activism fun. “Catching warlords is so cool!”
Claire Suddath provides a number of reasons why the video was so popular. First, “it tells you a story.” There’s a narrative. It makes us curious about what happens to Jason’s Ugandan friend, Jacob. “The video is about you.” He makes it personal by speaking directly to us in voiceover. He uses Facebook too and our shared experiences make us feel a little closer to him. Third, “it’s action packed.” The film plays much more like documentary with a strong linear narrative than as a public service announcement. And famous people told us about it. If Oprah and Rush Limbaugh both agree that this is a worthy cause, it must be legit. Lastly, the story isn’t over. The video empowers us by telling us we’re the only ones that can help.
Is clicking a link the same thing as marching or volunteering ones time? Is this activism or slacktivism? Either way, there’s no excuse for doing nothing.