The sensation that is/was ‘Kony 2012′ has been a part of the nonprofit social-media landscape for six-plus weeks now. The hundreds of millions who made the original video a viral sensation in March were not all supporters of the message, though, and challenges to the drive launched by the San Diego nonprofit ‘Invisible Children’ continue to be made. The original and ostensible goal is to have Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) brought to justice by making Kony ‘famous’ enough that world leaders will be inspired or shamed to dedicate the resources to get him. The effort to make him famous has been done and the culmination of the effort was this past weekend’s ‘Cover The Night’ campaign. How well did it go? Whether the night got ‘covered’ probably depends on where you are and what you want ‘covered’ to mean, but Invisible Children have ratcheted up their campaign with, frankly, the oddest video yet.
The video is not likely to gain much attention, if for no other reason that any video would struggle to get 104 million-plus views.meant to explain the original viral sensation, noting the fact that it ‘explained’ only just enough of the major challenges raised to that first video. This third video does not refer either to the first or its followup, and is indeed focused on… well… you decide:
For this blogger, my biggest complaint about the whole movement is how blithely the goalposts keep getting moved. USAToday reported that the organizers began shifting attention away from advertising Kony and his crimes with posters, murals, stickers… on Friday before Saturday’s cover campaign:
Ahead of tonight’s action, supporters were encouraged to do three hours of volunteer community service work. The human connection extends around the world, but it starts across the street. So we’re kicking the night off by serving in our own communities and earning the right to be heard globally by acting locally. Some suggestions included “park pick-up,” “free car wash” and “act of kindness.”
Frankly, those are some low-hanging fruit after all the self-congratulatory publicity of March.
And this third video is a mess. It conflates images absolutely irrelevant to the campaign (those rock concert crowds had nothing to do with Invisible Children) with a slick music video complete with hip-hop dancers who may or may not be wearing t-shirts that may or may not be pertinent to to the campaign. Though it’s difficult to be against cleaning the local park, but Joseph Kony who? Those are army boots in a couple of scenes, I’m sure. And the charity doesn’t even suggest it has any idea what it will do on November 3rd. But stay tuned and keep buying the t-shirts!
To ‘jump the shark’ is to present a tv story so ridiculous that the writers seem to be striving for a way to boost ratings while admitting they have no more stories to tell. ‘Invisible Children’ has just made that jump. For a charity or nonprofit to do so is tragic and ethically appalling. Kony, even if his reign of terror has been stunning curtailed, is still free (or dead) and his LRA still spreads terror, albeit not so much in Uganda. Moreover, many nonprofits within Uganda have been trying to update and clarify the simplistic, US-centric, story of the original video.
Invisible Children’s campaign highlights a brave new world of nonprofit activity, one in which slick production and exciting viral activity inspires especially the young to get involved in some fun local activities before they get distracted by the next ‘crisis.’ The problems will remain, but our thirst for the new splashy social-media campaign could trump many people’s hard and consistent work to improve tragic situations, be they environmental, political, biological, or racial. And the more sober minded could respond to any new campaign, no matter how legitimate, with a wave of cynicism through the same social networks that first got the word out.
It’s unlikely that many other charities harbor suchas Invisible Children. But damage has been done. The numbers show that even the supporters of the original message were not bothered to continue their clicktivism with the sequel. The kids who wasted their $30 (but not a fun evening with friends hanging up a few posters) might be the only notable losers thus far, but what about those Ugandans who would actually benefit from serious collaboration on serious problems? Or other nonprofits whose next video will be questioned the moment it gets shared?
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Written by: Christopher Gardner, PhD