As I am addressing fellow Londoners, I expect that I can start this article assuming that all of you have heard of, or are among the 100 million people who have watched, the Kony 2012 video? If not, seriously – where have you been?
Since the video went viral, a number of reputable media outlets have been busy highlighting that to achieve this instant fame, video maker Jason Russell and his team have resorted to slightly questionable tactics. The bitter aftertaste of condescension, the unanswered questions and how incredibly oversimplified the video is have angered the social media masses resulting in Twitter, YouTube and Facebook rants aplenty.
At the moment, it seems that on some of the highlighted issues, the San Francisco activists can be given the benefit of the doubt. A response to their critics was posted on the organisation’s website and shows awareness of some of their shortcomings – problems like not having enough board members to meet some charity governance standards, or being idiotic enough to think it funny to pose brandishing giant machine guns Rambo-style alongside the Sudan People’s Liberation Army – not such a hilarious Facebook profile picture now the whole world knows your face! Despite these errors in judgement, their message is clear: ‘We can do better, give us some time.’
Russell’s own recent (and incredibly embarrassing) public meltdown is evidence of the challenges an astonishingly quick rise to superstardom presents. It leads us to question if leaders such as the one he is trying to be have the human capacity to capitalise on all that social media has to offer or whether anyone subjected to its formidable power will crack and start hurdling cars in the nude.
Perhaps the most apparent error that the film-makers are guilty of is oversimplification. They freely admit that ‘In a 30-minute film, many nuances of the 26-year conflict are admittedly lost or overlooked.’ This means that viewers are left with an incomplete understanding of the particulars of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army and means that unless the viewer takes it upon themselves to conduct further research, their opinion will be formed without all of the facts.
Does this sound familiar? In order to prop up its online campaign, Russell and his team are reaching for the same old crutch that has helped the likes of Rupert Murdoch prop up media empires. I’m talking about ‘tabloid speak’.
If you think of it that way, then the choice to endorse the Kony 2012 video or not is the same choice that an average Londoner used to face on Sundays – do I reach for the News of the World or do I reach for The Sunday Times? All the facts or just the interesting bits?
Oversimplified messages are the junk food of information. They are accessible and designed to make us crave more. Ultimately, however, they lead to an unhealthy diet and the chaps from the Invisible Children should have tried harder to provide us with a balanced meal.
Image by mandyldewaal courtesy of Flickr