Yesterday, a YouTube video created by charity organisation Invisible Children went viral. After racking up almost four and half million views and being the top trending topic on Twitter for the past day, it’s fair to say that everyone is talking about their campaign. Invisible Children are attempting to make guerrilla group leader Joseph Kony famous in the hope that this will force people around the world to end his brutal 26 year reign in and around Uganda. Wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity since 2005, Kony has evaded capture ever since. Renowned for facially mutilating children, turning young boys into child soldiers and sexually enslaving girls, there is no doubt that Kony is a despicable man, and that any attempt to end his reign as leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army should be fully supported.
Something being discussed at length in my current moral philosophy lectures is whether the intentions or the consequences of an action are of the greatest importance, and in this particular case, bringing Kony to justice is certainly the primary aim. But one of the negative aspects of viral campaigns such as this one is that they often make supporting them seem fashionable. Yes, this may be cynical, and no, perhaps it doesn’t really matter if the end purpose is being served, but is it really right that people should be using the campaign in such a way?
The Kony 2012 bracelets further illustrate how charity is being made an accessory. A conversation with a friend earlier today revealed that they had bought the bracelet primarily because it was aesthetically pleasing, and secondly, that it was for a good cause. Again, perhaps their priorities are unimportant as the charity will benefit regardless, but surely we should consider the causes we donate to rather than giving simply because it is à la mode.
There is no denying that Kony is a terrible person who must be stopped, but it is also true that many other oppressive forces weighing down on people around the world are going unnoticed due to a lack of media attention. Supporting one campaign shouldn’t mean that equally desperate causes receive less help simply because they do not have well put together video operations behind them. Why, for example, is the current crisis in Syria being ignored by the international community? And why is poverty and famine all over the world going largely unaddressed? There are many terrible forces at work worldwide, and people should research and donate to charities that they truly want to help rather than throwing money at a cause that is in vogue.
Further to this, viral campaigns are often dangerous in that they fail to sustain the attention they so quickly gain, and as quickly as these things come into fashion, so too do they go out of it. It will truly be a test of people’s commitment to see how much of their time they actually dedicate to the cause over and above liking or sharing a link on Facebook.
Again, I can only emphasise how noble it is that those closely connected with Invisible Children have devoted so much time and money to a cause clearly close to their hearts, but I still question those who use the campaign for less charitable means. And as with all cases in which dictators are removed, this is no guarantee that the brutality of the LRA will stop. In fact, deposing the heads of violent factions often leads to worse actions as a form of revenge from their supporters, and perhaps highlighting the campaign in this way was not the best means of dealing with Kony. As the video mentions, the media spotlight that has been turned on him has led to reports he will be changing his tactics, making his capture even more unlikely.
Ultimately only time will tell how successful this Kony movement is, and the way in which social and new media has been used to document the cause is little far from extraordinary. I hope that this crusade proves effective and that people are inspired to support other desperate causes in its wake, but something tells me that after the hubbub dies down, few will even remember this campaign they claimed to back so wholeheartedly. If people genuinely want to help and spread awareness, they should do so, but bracelets and Facebook likes simply do not have the mark of a sincere desire for change.