Archive for March, 2012

KONY 2012: Why Emotional Appeals are Bad for Activism

Posted in current events, opinion with tags , , , , , , on March 9, 2012 by Kyle Fleming

In case you’ve been living under a rock, or happened to give up social networking for Lent, you’ve probably seen this video making the rounds:

This video, created by the foundation Invisible Children, was meant to raise awareness about Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), known for abducting children and using them as soldiers and sex slaves. It really is a terrible, terrible thing happening in Uganda. Invisible Children hopes the video will raise awareness about his crimes and hope to bring him to justice.

To be fair, when you read some of the stuff that Kony has done over the years, it really is terrible. However, I have a sinking feeling that this is just another one of those awareness campaigns where nothing happens (and we all know how I feel about those).

Kony needs to be brought to justice, no doubt. But how is sharing a YouTube video going to help? It’s cool that Ugandan tragedies are in vogue now, but most people will go no further than hitting that share button on Facebook. And those that do go further will probably take the easiest route they can find, which in this case, is giving money to Invisible Children. I mean, come on, they made the movie, they must have connections to help out. And they seem like a reputable charity. Financial assistance leads to real assistance, right?

Except that may be doing more harm than good. Let’s take a look at Invisible Children’s financial statement from 2010 through June 2011. Invisible Children received over $8.2 million in revenue in this time period, which is a lot of money to potentially be working with. Theoretically, it’s a lot of money that could be going to help Ugandans.

How much of that money went to direct services to help those Ugandans. Just over $2.8 million. Sounds impressive, until you do the math, and realize that it’s less than 35% of it’s revenue going toward direct services. How does that compare to other charities? The American Red Cross gives around 92% of its revenue to direct services. UNICEF gives around 90% toward direct services.

Also, what many people might not know is that, while the original goal of Invisible Children was to try and prevent the abduction of children. However, this that didn’t work so well, they’re now fighting fire with fire. Meaning the money that goes to Invisible Children gets forwarded to the Ugandan military, buying weapons so they can fight Kony and the LRA.

Yes. The LRA. Donating to Invisible Children is donating to the Ugandan military to fight and kill the children that you’re trying to save. And it doesn’t help that the Ugandan military is just as corrupt as Kony himself. (Follow the links in this post for more information on that.)

But what I think bothers me the most about this KONY 2012 movement is that I’m really afraid that nothing will happen. Invisible Children set a goal to get rid of Kony by April 20. But what happens when that doesn’t work? Will people still care about Ugandan children in a month? Or maybe a better question is: will people still have the fire to do something after April 20?

I can almost guarantee that most people sharing the video were sucked in by the horrible images and emotional appeals, but can’t find Uganda on a map.

Maybe I’m cynical, but emotional appeals will not work if you want me on your side of justice. I prefer facts. I prefer knowing what you plan to do to solve the problem. Ousting a dictator isn’t as easy as finding him and saying, “Hey, you. You’re being kind of mean. You should probably knock it off.” If you don’t have any answers for me, then I’m sorry, I can’t feel comfortable joining your cause.

To close, I leave you with a statement from Don Cheadle’s Twitter feed. He posted a series of tweets on Wednesday (that I’ve combined and edited to close) that made a lot of points that I fully support:

Still cycling through the information. Firsthand: I’ve been to the night commuters camps, world vision and the like. No question Kony is a bad guy. But divergent perspectives I find informative and the truth often lies betwixt and between what’s proffered. You must use your critical minds and innate instincts to decide for yourselves while leaving open the possibility to understand more as more is understood…. Kony’s on the [International Criminal Court]‘s list for a reason and his deeds are well documented. I believe in Ugandans solving Ugandans’ problems. [It's a] tricky situation.

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