An online film, part of a campaign aimed at bringing to justice Joseph Kony, the Ugandan leader of the violent, child-recruiting Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), has been popular like no other advocacy film in recent memory. The viral film now has 48 million views on YouTube and Vimeo — 35 million of which were in the past day alone.
But with the film has come criticism for the charity behind it, Invisible Children. We’ve chronicled that criticism, first in a lengthy post on the charity’s methods to promote its cause, and then in an interview with a photographer who had taken a controversial photograph of the founders of the charity. While Kony and the LRA are undeniably brutal, critics of Invisible Children say it has manipulated the facts, oversimplified the issue and misrepresented Kony’s current whereabouts and actions, among other problems.
But just as the campaign has been criticized, so too have many come out in support of it. Celebrities have inundated their Twitter feeds with calls to their followers to help stop the brutal leader. Bloggers who cover Africa and technology have cautioned not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. And Thursday, even President Obama came out in support of the campaign.
Kony 2012 may have gone viral in large part because celebrities initially came on board. The filmmaker who made “Kony 2012,” Jason Russell, met with 20 “culture-makers,” including Tim Tebow, Angelina Jolie, Ryan Seacrest and Taylor Swift, to lobby for their support of the film, People reports.
By Wednesday and Thursday, the celebrity endorsements of the campaign were everywhere. Justin Bieber, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Ryan Gosling and Oprah all voiced their support on Twitter. Nina Dobrev, a Bulgarian-Canadian model, tweeted:
I've got close to 1.9 Million followers, if you all watch this and help in the smallest way it will make the BIGGEST LIFE SAVING DIFFERENCE— Nina Dobrev (@ninadobrev) March 7, 2012
Jon Turteltaub, Director of the “National Treasure” films and “Cool Runnings,” has also endorsed the campaign. In an e-mail to BlogPost, Turteltaub was pointedly critical of our earlier posts. He explained why he thought the Kony campaign was important, despite the questions about Invisible Children’s work:
The STORY is that those three guys are inspiring an entire generation of young people to get active and to make positive changes in their world. The STORY is that Joseph Kony's name is getting out there and that tens of millions of people are watching the video those guys made. The STORY is that even some goofballs from San Diego can change the world using media, the internet, and their hearts ...
I'm sure you ... remember when you were filled with optimism and enthusiasm at the thought of using your journalistic voice to make the world a better place. That's where Invisible Children and its supporters live ... and we should be proud and support their efforts, their successes and their courage.
Turteltaub’s letter suggests that making Kony’s name and face notorious will result in direct political action to stop him and the LRA. It is the same idea Invisible Children has championed throughout their campaign — that making the brutal leader “famous” can help bring him to justice.
They may be right. In 2009, a campaign by Invisible Children helped bring a bill to support stabilization and peace in Uganda and areas affected by the LRA into law.
And on Thursday, President Obama reaffirmed support of that bill. At a news conference, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the president “congratulates” the Americans who responded to this “unique crisis of conscience” and promised that America would continue to fight the LRA:
Many bloggers who cover Africa or social media have written more cautiously about the benefits of the campaign.
“Visible Children,” a student Tumblr blog that has received much attention for its criticism of the charity, said Wednesday that the problems in Uganda are “not one-dimensional” and that “postering, film-making and changing your Facebook profile picture” won’t help catch Kony.
In a lengthy post, blogger Ethan Zuckerman suggests that the problem is more layered than that. Zuckerman is the director of the MIT Center for Civic Media and founder of Global Voices, an international citizen bloggers Web site. He wrote:
As someone who believes that the ability to create and share media is an important form of power, the Invisible Children story presents a difficult paradox. If we want people to pay attention to the issues we care about, do we need to oversimplify them? And if we do, do our simplistic framings do more unintentional harm than intentional good? Or is the wave of pushback against this campaign from Invisible Children evidence that we’re learning to read and write complex narratives online, and that a college student with doubts about a campaign’s value and validity can find an audience? Will Invisible Children’s campaign continue unchanged, or will it engage with critics and design a more complex and nuanced response[?]
Invisible Children’s response to the criticisms of their campaign suggests that they are engaging with critics. Read that response here.
Below, the Kony 2012 video: