In case you aren't, Kony is a nutty Ugandan guy who kidnaps kids for his army, Invisible Children is an organisation opposed to these sorts of things, and Kony 2012 is their latest campaign. They've released a viral video explaining what I have just said, in a lot more detail, and asking people to spread the message online to raise awareness, the idea being that if everyone knows about this, there will be more pressure on world leaders to do something about it.
This brings me to the criticisms! There are many.
Some of them are valid, like:
- The Kony 2012 campaign advocates US military intervention and alliance with local military groups that have a history of the same sorts of things Kony does
This is true (AFAIK). Ultimately, that appears to be the outcome they're hoping for. I'm not an expert on these kinds of things so I won't say with certainty that it's the wrong course of action, but I definitely won't say it's the right one either.
- Kony and his supporters are small potatoes compared to some of the other bad guys with armies of kids
This is true as well - I don't recall the exact number, but I'm pretty sure there are hundreds of thousands of people, including many kids, who have been forced in to military service for dodgy governments and nutters. Stopping Kony won't protect these people, or the people who will be victims of the next guy to fill Kony's place. The whole system needs to change.
Some of them are, in my opinion, less valid. As I said, I'm no expert on human rights or African governments or military strategy. But I do know about marketing, and in particular marketing for a social cause such as this one. (It may sound cynical but the reality is, even the best causes are promoted by Evil Capitalist Manipulative Marketers. We don't all sell booze and cigarettes to kids, guys.) And as a marketing guru, I want to criticise some of these criticisms.
- Invisible Children only passed 32% of last year's fundraising on to direct aid
This may well be true. If you know anything about Not For Profit organisations, you will understand why this isn't a criticism at all! 32% is actually more than a lot of charities pass on. For the record, 32% of their earnings last year would have been about $2,776,546.48. If they hadn't spend a whole heap of money on employing some awesome people and funding some slick marketing, they wouldn't have had that money to donate. I read a quote somewhere recently, along the lines of "32% of a whole lot is more than 90% of not much". (To be fair this doesn't mean they are necessarily using their funds in the best way, but it doesn't necessarily mean that they aren't either.)
- They do a lot of merch-based fundraising
Yes, and it's working. This, sadly, is what many people today are after - they want something to show for their money, and more importantly, something to show off. This indicates a problem with patrons, not with the organisation. They would be silly not to sell merchandise.
- The video is propaganda
Good luck promoting your charitable cause without emotional appeals.
- This campaign isn't actually getting people to Do anything
To someone who doesn't know much about marketing (i.e. most people - why would they?) this is a perfectly sensible argument. But it has a sensible explanation: you can only move people one step at a time. Given that most people were relatively unaware of the whole situation, it's necessary to educate them and spread awareness first. Once everyone knows about Kony and wants to Do Something, the people at Invisible Children will try to provide the Something. That's just how it goes.
- This smacks of colonialism
If, just because you happen to be a white Westerner and the people who need help happen to be black Africans, you think this video is sending a racist message about the White Man's Burden, well, that says a lot more about you than it does about the campaign or the organisation.
There have also been a lot of criticisms of the people supporting the campaign. Again, some are valid - it appears that heaps of people are spreading the viral message without thinking about its potentially negative implications, and some of them are probably just doing it to feel smug about their human rights crusade without having to make any real effort.
But just as there are people who just repost the video so they can feel like activists, so there are some who just want to call out "sheeple" and "slacktivists" so they can feel like individual thinkers and pretend they are the true experts on the matter. On both sides there are people who've never cared about these issues and are not trying to give any real assistance now, and are just flooding the internet with ideas they got from some piece of online media that went viral and then patting themselves on the back. The only difference is which viral message they're using. So why do so many people believe that questioning the campaign automatically proves that a person actually cares about what's going on?
It's fair to criticise people who mindlessly hop on the Kony 2012 bandwagon. But I think we should also criticise people who mindlessly hop on the Anti-Kony 2012 bandwagon.
I'd really love to know what you all think about this.