Debate – Kony 2012: peers over policy?

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Proposition by Sakina Haider:

I remember it clearly. I believe it was 7th March. Innocently on this morning, I logged onto Facebook. ‘Tom, Dick, Harry and 100 others are talking about ‘Kony 2012’ read my newsfeed. My newsfeed, like millions of others worldwide, had been completely dominated by hundreds of people sharing the admittedly powerful Kony video coupled with inspiring little messages; ‘a must watch’, wrote one friend, ‘eye opening’, wrote another. ‘Wow’, I thought. I didn’t have time to watch the 30-minute long video that morning, yet I almost pressed the ‘share’ button myself.

How glad I was that I resisted. Procrastination and intrigue combined, I finally sat down to see what this ‘Kony 2012’ was about. What I saw was, for lack of a better word, ridiculous. There is much I could say on this, yet for now I will cast the debatable strategy the campaign advocates, the questionable finances of the Invisible Children organisation and, not least, the ‘extra-curricular’ activities of its founders aside. What I found shocking was how blatantly patronising the video was. Unnervingly Orwellian, almost. And what is worse is that it seemed to have worked. Millions of people mindlessly ‘shared’ the video, without giving a second thought to what exactly it was advocating and how complex the Ugandan situation is, not easily reducible to the black and white good vs. evil picture that Jason Russell paints. Using the same explanation that he gives to his 5-year-old, I might add.

The only impressive aspect of the campaign is how quickly and widely it spread, perhaps historically demonstrating the groundbreaking power of social media. Yet, it is a shame that this power has not been put to better use, for example in raising greater awareness for the horrific situation in Syria, which is happening now. But it does take more than this to really make a difference. Sharing a video by the press of a button and leaving it there may fulfil a moral quota, but awareness is just half the battle.

The herd behaviour the video generated continued and the Kony hype stayed afloat for a few more days. Yet, how many people shared the sequel released last week? The first video was getting over a million hits an hour. The sequel has been watched under two million times in its first week. The Internet is fickle, people have moved on. Tom, Dick and Harry have returned to their former apathetic selves. The hysteria Kony 2012 has created has been proven to have been largely superficial and I wonder how many people will really ‘cover the night’ this Friday.

 

Rebuttal by James Phillips:
The anti-Kony 2012 campaign certainly spread rapidly, but it misses the point. I had never heard of Kony before, and neither had millions of others. He had rarely been on TV or in the news, despite him having been wanted by the International Criminal Court for years. Kony 2012 changed this. The fact that you’ve raised this debate refutes your own argument. Finally, the criminal is infamous.

All the proposition’s criticisms could be true, but they are of no consequence. Do Invisible Children spend their money badly? For a low budget film, its impact was remarkable. Charities alone don’t cure anything – they need awareness and public support to work.

The video is patronising? It’s too simple? This is beside the point. Millions of people supported it. Plus, try getting an academic political analysis piece to go viral on Youtube. Political communication demands simplicity.

This whole fuss involves people overthinking a simple ‘click’ to an extent which only political pundits or students could achieve. Are people guilty of jumping on a bandwagon? Most political movements rely on the so-called ‘bandwagon’ phenomena. Must we read weighty tomes on the ‘context’ and ‘complexity’ of the issue at hand before adopting a view? A mass popular movement is by definition a bandwagon. Politics, and political activism, demand bandwagons.

No one ever considers the support for the campaign, either. The chief UN prosecutor supports the video, as do Amnesty International. The head of the UN regional office described Kony 2012 as ‘useful, very important’ in passing the new African Union strategy on Kony’s LRA group, which involves deploying a new task force to help capture Kony. These facts should be considered when the proposition argues that people have ‘moved on’. People will remember Kony, even if they didn’t watch the sequel.

The proposition also argues that ‘awareness is only half the battle’. This is not a point in their favour. We have now won half the battle. This is progress. This is a good thing, isn’t it? Or have I missed some hyper-complex part of the situation?

Lets not overcomplicate things. Kony 2012 hasn’t addressed every issue. Invisible Children has flaws. So what? The video isn’t asking for your money. They just want to make the issue relevant. They succeeded.

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