Friday, March 9, 2012

"Kony 2012" - Do Your Research

There is no question that Joseph Kony is a terrible human being. There is no question that bringing Kony to justice would serve to benefit the greater good of the world, and there is no question that infamizing this man is the right thing to do. People should be educated about atrocities throughout the world, but not just because they don't won't to be left out of the loop during a social media campaign that's gained enough momentum to become water cooler talk.

The majority of the people latching onto this cause are young. High school students are posting the Invisible Children's video on their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. It's fantastic to see a good cause get so much positive attention. The fact that so many young people are jumping on board a bandwagon without knowing where it's going or what it's doing is a scary thought though. Without doing a little digging, it's easy to get led down a deceptive path. Remember how many people thought "The Blaire Witch Project" was actually a documentary? Video can be a powerful tool, especially when viewed by someone not concerned with forming their own opinion.

How many of your Facebook friends do you think actually researched Joseph Kony or Invisible Children any further than watching the 30 minute video? How many do you think can point to Uganda on a map? Until this story came to social media, I'm not sure I could give you more than a general idea.

If you want me to share this video, which I have, that's great. If you want to feel like you're a part of something bigger than yourself, that's awesome. If you want to talk to me about how the American government needs to do more to stop Joseph Kony and the terror he is bestowing on the people of Uganda...use Google first.

The movie is about the northern Uganda conflict that began in the early 80s. That war ended twelve years ago. By all accounts, Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army have not been in Uganda for the last six years.  CNN's Christiane Amanpour attributes this to Kony being well known for his crimes by the people of Uganda, not because of raised awareness in the United States.

Amanpour said, "His crimes against these children were committed largely in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and because people have been going after him he's actually considered to be much more of a threat now in the Democratic Republic of Congo."

Kony's army of tens of thousands of children mentioned in the Invisible Children film actually consists of less than 300 soldiers according to Reuters. As rebel terrorist leaders go, he seems pretty convinced he's wrongly accused and just misunderstood. Fortunately that's not the way the rest of the world views him. Here's the first and last known interview with Kony conducted by freelance journalist Sam Farmar in 2006.

The "Kony 2012" video has been viewed over 15 million times. To put it in perspective, the actual interview with Joseph Kony I posted above has only been viewed a little over 215,000 times.

Invisible Children is getting a lot of flack about how they spend the money donated to them, but I think that's unfair. Roughly a third of what they receive goes to Uganda. The rest allows them to spread their message to people around the world. If you've watched the "Kony 2012" video, then you know the organization offers kits to help you spread their message too. Posters, T-shirts bracelets, "action books," etc. That all costs money. Without the support they have received, the eyes of the world would not be where they are this week and where that is is a positive and powerful thing.

If you want to help the people of Uganda, then do it. The country is doing a great job of rebuilding after years of civil war, but Africa as a whole is suffering in more ways than at the hand of vicious killers like Kony.

The people of Africa are starving. AIDS has decimated the population. Severe droughts have caused crops to fail and livestock to die. Want to be moved by a video? This three minute video will break your heart and it won't take your whole lunch break to watch it.

If you want to help these people, there are plenty of things you can do. Here's a list of charities working on the ground in Africa to rebuild schools, develop education, provide food and medical care to orphans. They probably have videos too.

I know it may sound like I'm trying to condemn people, but I'm not condemning anyone. It's amazing to me that a 30 minute film can call millions of people to action. I love that there are organizations like Invisible Children that work to raise awareness about the plight of people in need in a place that might otherwise seem so far away. Invisible Children deserves your support, but so do so many other organizations that put far more of your donations to actual use on the ground in Africa.

There's no reason not to support "Kony 2012," but becoming educated beyond the impassioned plea of the filmmaker is also important. It's important to research where your support is going. Do you want a bracelet or do you want to be part of a cause? What cause do you want to help and who is doing the most to further that cause? Find them, help them.

Watching so many young people snap into civic awareness through social media is truly awesome, but show me an example of social media dictating or even having an affect on foreign policy or military action in the U.S. It simply doesn't and can't happen. It won't happen. "O Brother Where Art Thou?" was hilarious, but George Clooney has little to do the the decisions and actions of the United States military. I bet he's aware of what he supports though.

Find your cause. Research it. Support it. Raise awareness, but don't just click "share." Educate yourself. That's all I'm saying.