Since its release on Monday, KONY 2012 has skyrocketed around the internet, becoming one of the most successful examples of the power of social media ever. The man behind it all, Jason Russell, said he just wanted to tell a story about the horrors taking place in Uganda brought on by Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army. In a matter of days, he has done just that–managing to get the world’s attention about the child abuse taking place in this country from turning young children into soldiers, slaves and murderers. But despite the awareness he’s raised, Russell has a number of critics now saying his approach to stopping this abuse is all wrong. But if we don’t bring attention to the issues, how can we put an end to abuse?
Consider this: After receiving pressure from Congress, President Obama announced that he had authorized the deployment of roughly 100 American military advisers to help African nations working toward “the removal of Joseph Kony from the battlefield.” That was in October. And here we are, five months later and has that happened? No. As is typical in politics, it could take years before changes are made. Meanwhile, more children will suffer and lead a life that they don’t want to live anymore (as evidenced by one of main stars in the film who said he’d rather be in heaven with his brother than live this life any longer).
But since Monday, “KONY 2012,” has received an unprecedented 50 million views on YouTube and Vimeo. Their organization, Invisible Children, has also generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to help their cause of bringing Kony down.
Noelle Jouglet, a spokeswoman for the group, told the New York Times that people in their San Diego office have barely slept all week since the video hit:
It was unstoppable. It went internationally very quick. This is a game-changing event for our company.
But despite all of the attention, support and funds raised to help these children, Jouglet said some of the calls she received were from people who had previously pledged donations but now, after reading the criticism of Invisible Children, want their money back.
Many specifically take issue with the way that the video presented the fight against the rebels. Others don’t like how Invisible Children spends its money behind the scenes. And still others don’t think bringing all of this to light is the smart solution.
Yesterday, The Atlantic voiced their opinion on that topic and criticized Russell and Invisible Children for putting these crimes against humanity out there:
In theory, awareness campaigns should remedy that problem. In reality, they have not -and may have even exacerbated it. The problem is that these campaigns mobilize generalized concern — a demand to do something. That isn’t enough to counterbalance the costs of interventions, because Americans’ heartlessness or apathy was never the biggest problem. Taking tough action against groups, like the LRA, that are willing to commit mass atrocities will inevitably turn messy.
They went on to criticize the way the group is raising attention and money:
Campaigns that focus on bracelets and social media absorb resources that could go toward more effective advocacy, and take up rhetorical space that could be used to develop more effective advocacy.
But… they don’t go on to explain what “effective advocacy” is. How do we go from raising awareness about this violence to actually stopping it?
I think Russell and Invisible Children have done a very commendable job of bringing all of this to light. They’ve engaged the under-25 segment of our population in a way that very few other issues have (as a matter of fact, it was my 15-year-old who shared the video with me and insisted that I watch it). Despite all the criticism, bringing major attention to a human abuse is the only way to stop it. Even if every American doesn’t actually do something to support it, education and knowledge is still the most powerful start.