Written by Kate Kelsall
12 Monday 12th March 2012

For anyone who’s been living in a cave for the last week, Kony 2012 was released on the 5th March, by the charity Invisible Children founded by Jason Russell. It calls for US military intervention in Northern Uganda directed at the arrest of rebel leader and top of the International Criminal Court’s most evil list – Joseph Kony. Its mode of attack – to make Kony famous through relentless social media, postering and communication.

The viral video described by one publication as ‘emotional pornography’ has amassed over a phenomenal 73 million hits on YouTube. It certainly packs a serious punch with Kony’s rampage of rape, abduction, murder, facial mutilation and the enlisting of child soldiers enough to enrage any and every human heart.

Every possible trick in the social campaign handbook is ticked. To name but a few of the tools deployed, Russell’s adorable son is interviewed expressing an endearingly naive perspective on world injustice, implying that putting it to right should be child's play; child soldier Graham gives a personal dimension to the unfathomable faceless multitude of Kony’s victims; and celebrity endorsement and uplifting soundtracks guide us to the conclusion that our voice wields almighty power.

Being manipulated by the same Jedi mind tricks utilized by advertising agencies the globe over produces a slightly strange sensation in the context of social obligations. ‘Cover the Night’  - an event set for the 20th of April during which city residents the world over are encouraged to take to the streets and plaster Kony posters over every available space - has been marketed with the pizazz of an exceedingly successful club promo. Does the concept behind Kony 2012 need to be sold so forcibly to free-thinking individuals?

Many have stood in defense of this flamboyant marketing. With the most prolific and ardent Kony 2012 supporters being teenage girls, one school of thought maintains faith in the merits of a palatable and simplified message for the masses to swallow. Devices allowing for our young folk to understand, assimilate and contribute to world politics are all very well, allowing that they are not being misinformed. 

I do not wish to put the kibosh on any use of social media to advocate and inform – a worldwide Twitter trend that doesn’t involve Rihanna lyrics or Beliebers is unquestionably both refreshing and empowering. However a healthy degree of cynicism is wholly advisable in any campaign seeking to simplify the highly complex tangle of Ugandan politics into a hashtag witch hunt for one man, even if he is apparently a modern-day Hitler. In the early days, amid the hysteria of general idealism, none put it better or more succinctly than The Independent’s Musa Okwonga‘Stop Kony, yes. But don’t stop asking questions’.

And since then the questions kept coming. Issues brought to light range from misuse of funds and misguided focus on violent action to ideological accusations of a neo-colonialist mindset, and have been widely covered with most of the salient points expressed on Visible Children. Some of the strongest complaints leveled at the NGO stem from financial duplicity, with the stark stat that only 32% of turnover goes into direct services raising blood temperatures over inflated salaries and expensive branding. These attacks prompted an official response from Invisible Children, in which their accounts were laid bare - the offending figure rose timidly to 37.14% but at least the remaining $5,591,402 was accounted for. If you stop to think, then the nature of their campaign which focuses on advocacy and not direct action, makes this unsurprising. Nevertheless it begs the question of how much such awareness is really worth.

While the Obama administration has praised the ‘movement’, the response from many in Uganda has been one of outrage over misconstrued facts. Viewed from this angle Kony 2012 looks like the almighty voice of the West speaking before it thinks. Turns out that military intervention is not necessarily a wise course of action with an army of child soldiers getting caught in the crossfire. Equally the monocular hunt for Kony does not take into account the rehabilitation of thousands of parentless and traumatized children.

Not only do Ugandans dispute Invisible Children's proposal, it has also been suggested that Kony is not even in Uganda but hiding in the forests of neighboring countries, his threat largely undermined. The momentum gathered by the campaign's support could be creating a monster which no one has ultimate control over. If Uganda doesn't want such intervention then Russell's people power is ultimately ill-founded.

Much of the reportage on the story went as viral as the video did, an encouraging fact which at least implies that people are delving deeper than Twitter to formulate their opinion. For a balanced view The Guardian’s live blog coverage ‘What’s the real story?’ roots through both sides of the coin with analytical savagery. Many of the most militant unbelievers have been forced to retract their offending statements, toning down their cynicism, albeit sometimes in a very tongue and cheek fashion. Whether these public complaints were morally pompous and self-congratulating or defenders of hope and decency really isn't for me to judge.

Sick Chirpse writer Aleksandra Bilic has to be commended for having serious balls - especially as she doesn't, she's a woman, which she highlights in response to accusations of chauvinism - for not retracting her highly aggressive article, but responding to complaints with factual fuck-yous.

Soon after the honeymoon period of idealist tweets blurting sentiments about world peace, came the inevitable backlash. Slating ‘bandwagon philanthropists’ and 'armchair activists' has became a bandwagon on which to jump in its own right. 

Mountains of press coverage and debate are of course perpetuating the campaign’s aims. Whether it is in praise or criticism of the video it is still putting Kony’s face on the cognitive map of our consciousness. Ironically the dubious questionability of Invisible Childrens agenda has been their trump card, adding to their air time and spreading the word on a wider scale. Squeaky clean altruism would have lost the attention of tweeters in next to no time.

The internet is a realm in which nothing is sacred. Hours after Whitney’s death the inappropriate jokes began to rage, and the sad truth is that if an icon of popular culture isn’t safe then it would be naive to think that helpless Ugandan orphans would be immune. Sikipedia, always a safe bet for obscenity, includes slights such as “Kony told me I wouldn’t miss my family. I never miss at close range” and “I’m all for finding Kony, I can’t wait to see what Maddie looks like now”.

Moreover Invisible Children is no longer trending worldwide. After initial raucous optimism and then plummeting enthusiasm, accusation and controversy it has all but dropped of our radar in under a week. Its success depends on attention spans. New media may present easy and inclusive ways to stir a battle cry but sustaining the pitch of its intensity in such fickle, transient territory is going to be tricky.

With ‘Cover the Night’ over a month away, and the true road to solutions in Uganda a lengthy and arduous process, how long can the campaign hold our interest for? Feeding from the same innovations that fuelled our obsession with B-list celebrity, let us hope that Invisible Children’s limelight and Kony’s infamy is not of the 15 minute variety.

Kony 2012 sure got people heated. What are your thoughts or is it already old news?

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