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Mackay: From Indifference to Activism

March 7, 2012

Joseph Kony, Ugandan guerrilla leader and founder of the Lord's Resistance Army, is subject of a growing movement known as KONY 2012.

By now, almost everyone reading this post will be at least somewhat familiar with Joseph Kony and the KONY 2012 video that sprang up on the internet less than 48 hours ago. It must be awfully hard to remain in the dark about it; the video, and countless events relating to it, flooded Facebook and Twitter feeds in a matter of hours, drowning out everything else all the while being shared, reposted, and ‘liked’ at an alarming rate the likes of which social media has never seen before.

For those few who have yet to see the video, the premise behind it is that the world must take action, immediately, to end the reign of Joseph Kony, a Ugandan guerrilla leader, whose organization, Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA for short), seeks to kill, maim, rape, torture, and enslave Africans (specifically Ugandans in the video) in the name of God. As a video it is dangerously effective, and has gotten the attention that the organization behind the video, Invisible Children, clearly sought. Looking at this in a purely marketing sense, this video can be considered nothing short of a huge success, one that has led social media observers to point out that this may reshape social activism and finally galvanize the millions of internet users into action.

The sudden burst of popularity, which has pushed the video on Youtube to over nine million views in just little over a day, has caused some excitable commentators to refer to this movement as being on the same level as the Arab Spring. While anyone trying to compare the rampant alleged success of this campaign, which is still very much in its infancy, to that of the uprising in the Middle East is ignorantly misguided, it is hard to make an argument that the velocity at which this movement spread is anything but remarkable. Does this translate into action though, and furthermore, will it help to promote a cause that so desperately needs to be widespread and discussed?

Personally, I am incredibly skeptical of this movement bringing about any major success, for a number of reasons. The primary reason being that the issue of child soldiers is not a new one, and that many of the actual “goals” that Invisible Children seek to accomplish have already been achieved: The LRA has been on the decline for years; Joseph Kony fled Uganda; the Obama Administration has taken action to help the Ugandan people and end Kony’s reign of terror; the International Criminal Court and Ugandan Military have done a considerable amount of work to chase out Kony and the LRA, as well as capture and/or kill high ranking members of the LRA; the LRA has ‘declared’ that they are seeking to peacefully rebuild Uganda and restore democracy, and more.

The other large reason would happen to be that the internet, generally, has a very short attention span, and an even shorter memory. Many of these newly-born activists are the same people who spend hours a day googling cat pictures, and have likely never cared to look up the abhorrent byproduct of abject poverty and unparalleled corruption that are child soldiers. How many times in the past year have we seen the internet get fired up over something near and dear to their hearts, only to share a few pictures, click a few links, and then forget about it all a week later when the initial furor has died down?

The Occupy movement stands as the only entity that comes to mind in the last year or so that had a lasting impact on the masses. The SOPA/PIPA backlash was strong and sudden, and powerful enough to cause the United States’ government to back down, but ACTA, a bill arguably just as dangerous, was overlooked or simply forgotten, as the internet had filled its quota of social activism for the month. As well, internet campaigns to boycott GoDaddy for their support of SOPA, or campaigns to stop Canadian telecommunication companies from implementing Usage-Based Billing, were fleeting at best and died down shortly after the media spotlight shone elsewhere, leaving little appeal for those to step up and continue to fight the good fight.

Yet what should strike us throughout these countless explosions of activism through social media is a hard lesson teaching us that the interest, and participation, expressed by those newly involved is only skin deep. The suffering, and pain, endured by those whose need our help, however, is not. While we should celebrate any person, group, or organization that takes an effort to spread awareness of an issue as dire as child soldiers, we should also continually work to keep these issues in our collective thought, and never let them be swept under the rug because they are no longer seen as cool, or talked about amongst our peers.

Sharing a video does not make you a humanitarian. If you feel the need to make a difference then contact the Red Cross, or Warchild, Free the Children, Amnesty International, or Fondation Général Romeo Dallaire. Raise some money for an organization that seeks to do good, and raise awareness for a cause that desperately need not be forgotten. Social media has allowed slacktivism to take the place of good old fashioned hard work; posting a status and then patting yourself on the back for a job well done is not enough, and is not an acceptable alternative to authentic activism. For those who truly want to help, there are ways to accomplish great things that can help reduce the suffering of those less fortunate than ourselves. For those who think that posting a video on Facebook is sufficient, well, there will never be a shortage of cat pictures to share with your friends.

For additional reading, a critical analysis of the group Invisible Children and the KONY 2012 movement, please feel free to check out Visible Children.

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