Thursday, March 8, 2012

#StopKony: 24 Cyber Hours of Inspiration, Disillusionment

By Shingi Mavima 

"To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge." Henry David Thoreau

On Tuesday, March 6th 2012, the world of social media was introduced to the “Kony 2012’ video from the organization Invisible Children. If you missed it, the 30 minute documentary is a passionate plea aimed at shedding light to the horror of Ugandan child soldiers being kidnapped and forced to fight under warlord Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Kony’s history as a warlord goes back nearly 25 years. Invisible Children began its work in Uganda in 2005. Both have had their highs and lows, but never have they been brought to the forefront of our consciousness as they have this week. #stopkony has outlived the average life of a Twitter trending topic by a cyber-long time, all the while being complemented by related trending topics (invisible children, Kony201 etc.) Facebook, Tumblr and any known social network site have been abuzz with the movement. You couldn’t have missed it. I am hard-pressed to remember anything that has gone this viral on the internet.

Now those well-versed in social media dynamics would have predicted the next stage as soon as the video had been shared for the umpteenth time: a barrage of criticism and discrediting of the video, the organization and the entire movement was imminent. It is no mystery but rather, it is the same principle that governs the rise and fall of anyone/anything society perceives to be noble and/or excellent.

The criticism is not without merit. If anything, I have learnt more about the situation by reading the criticisms than the video itself. Briefly, the main trends being brought up against the movement include:

·       1.  It seems to encourage ‘slacktivism’: people ‘like’ a Facebook status, buy a bracelet, and share a video and go along having played their part in saving the world.

·        2.  The video does little to provide the context in which a Joseph Kony could have risen, and many of the ‘facts’ are either outdated or only partially true (for example, the LRA have barely been active in Uganda for over five years now, having since spread to neighboring countries).

·         3. There is something rather patronizing about having the problem be explained to the world as it were being explained to his toddler son.

·         4. If Kony has a history going back decades, then why now?

·         5. The movement seems to be encouraging US military action which, as we well know, is a very divisive idea

·        6.  Questions have been brought up about Invisible Children’s finances.

(Admittedly, the list is minimalist, seeing the purpose here is not to necessarily point out everything right and wrong about the movement. I do encourage everyone to read up on the situation.)

That said, there are also irrefutable truths being expressed by the insurgent movement.

·     Joseph Kony is an evil individual who uses Child Soldiers and those who wield relevant power within the global system have been silent on this for way too long.

“My people perish for lack of knowledge” – Hosea 4 vs 6 (Old Testament)

So here we stand with an undeniable problem. Someone saw it. Someone has stood up (whether misguided or otherwise) to tell people about it and even suggest solutions. That is an incontrovertibly good thing, and here is why:

1.      ‘Kony 2012’ has made millions of people previously unaware of the issue at all somewhat aware of it. That in itself is a very important step in addressing the problem. The West is often castigated for its overwhelming ignorance on external issues: Well, there you go - someone has said something and people are listening.
2.     A conversation has been started. It is easy to read into the criticisms arising as being detrimental to Invisible Children and their cause. While I am sure the organization itself might have a storm to weather, the actual cause is miles ahead of where it might have been a few days ago. Personally, I only knew the surface details of Uganda’s Child Soldier and the LRA. The video initiated the discussion and the responses to it - positive and negative - have provided a chance at a profound understanding  of the crisis at hand.

3.     It is inspiration to the citizen aspiring to make some impact on the world. It is important that we take ourselves out of the politics of the movement and address it for what it is: ‘there is an undeniable problem. Someone saw it. Someone has stood up.’ Arguments can be brought up about whether they are doing enough and/or in the right way, but the reality is that they did not have to do anything. They happened to stumble on an issue they are passionate about and ran with it. If tomorrow, someone is inspired to lead the war on bullying in American schools, then it is in the collective interest of society that they do. Should another group catch wind of sex-trafficking in the Pacific and decide to spread the word, then the world stands to benefit from that movement.  Are these the biggest problems the world is faced with? Individually, no. But they are important issues that need addressing, and who better than the passionate to reach the powerful? In a world of infinite problems and hardly anyone mandated to deal with them, anyone who stands up to do something deserves to be applauded.

There is something beautifully humane in realizing that you, as an ordinary person, can use your passions (in their case, making videos and networking) to influence a cause that matters to you.If we look back at any powerful social movement in history, it bears the same raw materials as this: an injustice; an informed minority; an ignorant and apathetic majority and; those inspired to work against said injustice. The only difference is the method and reach of communication models. As always, many will hear, and few will act: the higher the number of people reached, the higher the number of people who are likely to get involved.
There are two dangerous responses to the Kony 2012 and any other activist movements: 1) Taking it at face value, falling passionately in love, and treating it as gospel - abiding by all it says. 2) Those who feel that anything that ‘trends’ or is popular is intrinsically wrong. Either way, you fall into the category of blind activism. It is important that we keep ourselves open to these ideas; ingest them; then do further research; remember who the real victims are before delving into action.

So the ‘Kony2012’ movement? Excellent. Not because the organization behind it is saintly, or the initial information was accurate and sufficient, or because Joseph Kony and the LRA are the world’s most menacing issue. It is excellent because it got the world talking. It made you think critically. It made you read some more. It changed lives. 

All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”- Edmund Burke

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