We are in the midst of another polarizing social media firestorm. Invisible Children released a thirty-minute Youtube video to raise awareness about the terrible violence committed by Ugandan warlord behind the LRA, Joseph Koney. With over 40,000,000 views, it’s more than viral. The film’s message is well-meant: pass on this video, tweet about, facebook it, buy some bracelets, and donate to bring Kony to justice. Everyone from politicians to movie stars are getting on board, but others are rejecting the movement. This was perfectly illustrated by yesterday’s two top twitter trends: #kony2012 and #STOPkony2012. So as Christian college students, what should we think. Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of #Kony2012:
The Good: I genuinely believe that the filmmakers and businessmen behind Invisible Children are well intentioned. Just watch their first documentary. They’ve seen the plight of Ugandan children and they want to give those children a voice. Moreover, I’m positive that most the people participating in the twitter movement also want good things. Feeling compassion after watching this film is the right reaction (Is. 10:1-2)! I would be slow to criticize those who deeply feel the plight of the needy. Jesus himself felt compassion more than any other emotion in the gospel – it’s a God-like feeling.
The Bad: An insightful article in The Atlantic online by Max Fisher explains the problem well,
Kony 2012 is so seductive for precisely the same reasons that make it so dangerous. … [It] sets viewers up for a message so gratifying and fulfilling that it is almost impossible to resist: there is a terrible problem in the world, you are the solution, and all you have to do is pass along this video. … it tells Americans that by simply watching a video, and at most maybe buying a $30 “action kit” of wristbands and stickers, they have done all that’s necessary; they are absolved of responsibility.
While the film rightly evokes compassion, it also evokes guilt for our inaction. The problem is that the film tells us we can assuage our guilt by doing close to nothing, by tweeting. A Facebook post costs us nothing, but it gives us deep satisfcation. A tweet deceives our heart into believing that we’ve satisfied God’s call on our lives for social responsibility. This meme perfectly illustrates my point:
Of course that’s a ridiculous idea! By posting a tweet we feel like we’ve done something commendable, when, in reality, we’ve done very little. This is incredibly dangerous. God calls us to care for the needs of the needy and this movement teaches us that caring is as easy as tweeting. It’s shallow and naive. Instead, let’s turn our compassion towards those in our own community that need love. Do for one person here what you wish you could do for everyone everywhere.
The Ugly: Tweeting the revolution could actually cause more problems than it solves. Unfortunately, Invisible Children is a non-profit started by a few filmmakers and bussinessmen. They are not equipped to do the real work that Africa needs. The funds pouring into Invisible Children are being funneled away from more effective NGOs that actually help Central Africans set up legitimate, sustainable governments that can offer long term peace and prosperity to Uganda, Sudan and Central Africa.
Moreover, most reports show that the LRA is already on the decline, and Joseph Kony is probably not even in Uganda. He is not leading an army of 30,000 children (although that’s how many children he’s abducted over the last 25 years). Moreover, even if Joseph Kony is brought to justice a new warlord will rise to replace him – the problem is not just Kony, it’s a terrible unjust political structure.
I hope that Kony is brought to justice, and I hope this movement works. But I also hope that if he is caught, American college students won’t pat themselves on the back and move on. Central Africa needs more than justice for one man. It needs long term solutions, not a one-time social media firestorm.
My plea is this: be well informed, avoid naivety, and do what you can today to care for the needs of those around you. If you really want to change Africa, then change your major, and study political science or agribusiness, and join those NGOs who want to build sustainable governments, and businesses in Africa.
Above all else, let’s allow this video to quicken our hearts’ greatest plea: come quickly Lord. Until that day, the cries of war, death, and poverty will ring.