Joseph Kony was not a household name in North America one month ago. But a viral video from the U.S.-based charity Invisible Children has successfully shone the spotlight on the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army in central Africa. Kony is wanted by the International Criminal Court for countless human rights violations.
It also sparked what Victoria-based documentary filmmaker Jordan Clark calls “the first social media revolution.”
“It’s extremely effective. It’s showing that the power really is in the hands of the people. It’s just in a new medium … sharing a link on Facebook,” said Clark, program co-ordinator at the Pacific Film and New Media Academy. “I don’t think that they’re going to solve the problems in the region, but it certainly opens the door and reinvents how powerful social media can be when you’re trying to expose an issue or get information out.”
More than 104 million people have watched the 30-minute video online, which briefly touches on the cruelty that Kony and the LRA inflicted on northern Ugandans.
But Clark points out that Kony 2012 is not a documentary, as Invisible Children claims. It’s a corporate video promoting their charity.
“It was effective because the way they presented it made so much sense to their goals that it rushed people into action in that way. It was really a recruitment video for a singular purpose,” he said.
The action the charity sought from viewers wasn’t just to make Kony a recognizable name – and bring accusations of child slavery, rape, mutilation and murder to light – it was also to sell products.
Today (April 20), is the day Invisible Children wants their supporters to plaster cities worldwide with posters, stickers and lawn signs (available online in a $30 Action Kit, which sold out fast) to make Kony infamously recognizable.
Moussa Magassa, a human rights education advisor and sessional professor at the University of Victoria, is familiar with Kony and the LRA. Magassa wasn’t impressed with the video and the way the issues were approached.
“It was creating (film for) more selfish of a reason,” said Magassa, who stressed that his views do not represent UVic. “It was creating more sensation, to make it more palatable to the young generation – the Rambo-style ‘let’s go after him’ (mentality).”
The one-sided video did not touch on the responsibilities of the international community or the Ugandan government, he said. For two decades, no government has done enough to protect children in northern Uganda.
“As an educator, I think it is wonderful that people have heard, at least for the first time, about Kony, that they have learned about some of what he did,” began Magassa, “But, as a human rights educator, I am very concerned about the content of the education you impart on people. … I am concerned (viewers) have heard half of the news, and they should be educated to learn more about the whole context and the history of (the issues in Uganda).”
Though Clark supports the idea of Kony 2012, purely from the perspective of being interested in seeing whether today’s poster-plastering campaign pans out, he agrees that viewers need to better educate themselves on the issues presented.
“There’s so many different layers to the problems (in the video). … The reason it worked is (the video) was simple and nobody was confused with the issues,” he said. “I think Kony 2012 has oversimplified it to push people into action, which is exactly what (Invisible Children) wanted.”