in Misc

KONY 2012, and why you should think before you link

This article is not aimed to discredit the KONY 2012 movement, but rather to remind everyone that we should be critical of everything that pops up on our Facebook news feeds – so that we don’t get taken advantage of.

Here is the KONY 2012 video that is making waves on the web right now. Like, serious waves. But you probably already knew that.

I watched the video. I found it incredibly moving and equally terrifying. I also found it overwhelmingly well-made. Perhaps a bit too well made.

Well produced movies, bleeding-edge social web campaigns, ecommerce webisites, kits with bracelets and posters, cool graphic tees… These things aren’t free.

$$$

$$$

I truly have the utmost concern for this issue…

…and outrage for what this Kony guy appears to be doing. It’s truly disgusting and I have to thank the organization responsible for this campaign, Invisible Children, for bringing it to my attention.

My concern is exactly where the money goes from all these kits and donations, and whether or not this form of activism really ends up helping the problem.

I’ve no doubt that these folks’ intentions are good, but I’m also pretty sure they pay themselves and pay for all this shiny stuff with the money from their campaigns.

Here’s a good article explaining why you should be critical of this movement, and others like it. Not because it’s evil and it sucks, but because you probably didn’t do any research about it or have a genuine understanding of the issues before you added to the wildfire that’s spreading across the world right now.

Here are a few quotes from the article:

If people know this and still support Invisible Children because they feel it’s the best solution based on their knowledge and research, I have no issue with that. But I don’t think most people are in that position, and that’s a problem.

Is awareness good? Yes. But these problems are highly complex, not one-dimensional and, frankly, aren’t of the nature that can be solved by postering, film-making and changing your Facebook profile picture, as hard as that is to swallow. Giving your money and public support to Invisible Children so they can spend it on supporting ill-advised violent intervention and movie #12 isn’t helping.

Here is a thread on reddit that takes a very aggressive tone in stating that IC (Invisible Children) is an outright fraud.

He doesn’t appear to be completely unfounded in his statements either. Here are a few of the claims:

1. Before we begin talking about this issue, lets take a look at the charity in question. Invisible Children scores a lowly 2 out of 4 for transparency on charity navigator for refusing to be independently audited (having other accountants prepare and check your books and financials) Link

2. The IC has stated they are being shady. How you ask? They are providing misinformation to woo idealistic followers. The group have combined multiple regional conflicts to make it appear that this is one rapidly increasing issue. When confronted about their dodgy tactics, the head spokesperson stated;

“I agree with you that leading people to believe that the war is still happening in Uganda is not ethically right. It’s something we’ve been addressing internally, focusing on getting all staff and supporters on the same page (of communication).” – Source is Herei will hunt for a more recognizable source for you guys

[UPDATE] Here’s an article from ForeignPolicy.com that offers some useful and fair thoughts on the actual issues in Uganda as well as Invisible Children’s current campaign.

It would be great to get rid of Kony.  He and his forces have left a path of abductions and mass murder in their wake for over 20 years.  But let’s get two things straight: 1) Joseph Kony is not in Uganda and hasn’t been for 6 years; 2) the LRA now numbers at most in the hundreds, and while it is still causing immense suffering, it is unclear how millions of well-meaning but misinformed people are going to help deal with the more complicated reality.

Along with sharing the movie online, Invisible Children’s call to action is to do three things: 1) sign its pledge, 2) get the Kony 2012 bracelet and action kit (only $30!), and 3) sign up to donate.

There is intense criticism out there over Invisible Children’s finances, including that it spends too much money on administration and filmmaking, while still touting its on the ground NGO-style projects. Also, apparently it’s never been externally audited. I’m going to stay out of that, other than to say you can check out IC’s own financial disclosure information here.

[UPDATE] The Invisible Children have released a formal response targeting the criticism they’ve received.

I think they miss a number of  the key questions aimed at them in this statement, but it’s good to see them responding, and it adds another layer of insight to this multi-faceted story.

The Invisible Children pulled in over 13 million dollars last year and spent over 1.5 mil on “management” (ie. their salaries, which are speculated to be about 100k/person). They’ve formally reported spending just under 9 million in 2011.

I say be critical, I don’t say condemn or vilify.

I’m not proposing they’re doing anything wrong necessarily and I simply am not well versed enough on the whole thing to have a strong opinion.

I just assume you don’t either.

Do you? Good. Then you have every right to support the things you believe in.

Alternatively…

Did you just see a captivating film and feel really strongly about some terrible injustice in the world? My simple point is that maybe this issue deserves more than you re-sharing a video and contributing to the hive-mind on the internet that Invisible Children deserves your money and attention.

Bottom line

It’s easy to feel impassioned by a good cause. That film is beautiful and terrifying. But there are inevitably smart people out there willing to exploit that feeling in people. I don’t propose Invisible Children are such people. But I also don’t know they aren’t, and neither do you.

The bottom line is that when information can spread so easily and quickly, it’s important to be critical.

Let’s be careful not to create a new way to be exploited by blindly giving our money and attention to anyone who appears to be trumpeting a good cause.