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Kony, Slactivism and Justice

Its been the fastest growing viral video campaign in history. Over 100 million people watched (all or part) of the 29 minute video highlighting the plight of the “invisible children” – the child soldiers of the LLA.

Apparently it took Kony just 6 days to reach a 100 million views. But take a look at the next fastest videos to reach over 100 million views… notice anything about them?

They are all entertainment videos – either children’s comedy, funny family clips or pop videos. Most of them under 3 mins long. But Kony was a 29 minute campaign video encouraging us to take action for some of the most at risk children in the world. So this really is an encouraging and astonishing achievement.

One of the key things the Kony video asked us to do was to “cover the night” on April 20th with a poster campaign aimed to help the world wake up to the name of Joseph Kony – the head of the LLA who has kidnapped, abused and killed thousands of children. Sadly the reports are that the events that were organised around the world were poorly attended and that even on twitter there was a very little exposure for #kony2012.

I had and still have reservations about the KONY campaign – but I admire the vision, the use of social media and beautiful videography. I am interested in mobilising people to bring social transformation – as this is a key aspect of the church’s mission on earth. So I am intrigued why the campaign did not translate into on the ground action. Here are my immediate reactions:

1. Social media is a tool not a panacea

A viral video is does a great job of raising awareness but the move to call for action is a lot harder. This is where Malcolm Gladwell’s comment about weak ties is important. Gladwell commented that the civil rights marchers back in 1965 that faced down the police on bloody sunday in the US state of Alabama were bound together by strong social ties but Facebook friends are only weak ties. He is right of course but that is to misread how social media works. In my humble opinion the arab spring saw the use of social media to serve and support the ties that people already had rather than form new ones. Thus the Kony campaign will not galvanise a group of activists but it can help to inform and educate a wide audience.

2. Slactivism is real but not the whole story

A tweet, a “like” of a Facebook page or a view of a youtube video are certainly not enough when it comes to social activism. And it is a lot easier for us to watch a video than do anything else to help the victims of Joseph Kony. But to right off the Kony campaign as slactivism is misleading. Raising the issues has got to be part of a strategy of mobilisation. There will be a funnel effect – tens of millions watched the video but I believe hundreds of people globally will make the harder longer lasting choices to get stuck in and invest time and energy into working amongst the worlds poorest children. I keep coming across people who motivated by a desire to serve God actively seek ways to invest their lives into the most seemingly hopeless causes to demonstrate that God is powerful enough to bring transformation anywhere. Perhaps the Kony video will form part of a whole bunch of people’s journey towards greater involvement with the poor.

3. Beauty, Bandwagons and Discernment

The beauty of the video was the key to its viral nature – it was incredibly well shot and there was a very clever use of story telling through the eyes of the directors small son. But there were some some big questions that needed asking about the call for direct military intervention and with dubious partners. We live in a world where whoever makes the best marketing pitch gets the most amount of money and support – we need to help to educate the wider audience to ask critical questions about fundraising campaigns, aid and development charities without encouraging a cynical do nothing attitude. It also the celebrity factor that makes a huge impact. Look at the stats on impact of single tweet from Oprah Winfrey…

 

What are your reflection on the Kony2012 campaign?

2 thoughts on “Kony, Slactivism and Justice”

  1. Good thoughts Krish,

    I too am interested in this to see how we, the church, can learn from them in our communication.

    The number one problem that stopped the campaign from turning into action I think had to be Jason Russell’s meltdown. It just stuck a pin in all of the momentum that had been built up by the campaign. Once that hit the news, I think most people were a bit wary about being associated with the campaign.

    The second problem is one that maybe they couldn’t have anticipated, and that is that the campaign peaked too early. If the Cover the Night had been 1-2 weeks after the video launch then I think the participation would have been much higher. How much notice do people need to participate in a flashmob? Surely this shouldn’t need much more notice for this? But I think Invisible Children were taken a bit by surprise by the success of their film. In some ways it went too big, too fast for them. Unfortunately for them, by the time their action night came around Kony2012 was “so last month”.

  2. Krish, agree with what you wrote. Tangential thoughts:

    1) Brand is King
    Kony2012 could have had more success if it had been taken up and managed by some of the leading charities. This would have lessened the reputational damage caused by one of the pioneers losing the plot.

    As Christians and activists we underestimate the significance of a brand. One of my great sadnesses was the failure to appreciate that “Make Poverty History” had effectively become a well known brand. As a result it was dropped at the end of 2005 and much of the momentum and awareness of poverty which it created were lost.

    2) Divided we fall
    In the UK the RSPB is much the biggest charity looking after the interests of wildlife and in particular birds. It has over 1 million members, is listened to by politicians and gets plenty of media coverage. When the RSPB speaks out we get to hear about it!

    Contrast this with charities who are fighting poverty. They are doing a good job but are too small and duplicate the work of another. e.g. there are umpteen Christian charities tackling water and sanitation issues or providing the opportunities to sponsor a child. If they united they would provide a collective voice which people would listen to (cf your Oprah effect).

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