#Kony2012: Viral cause célèbre


If you can’t see the video, click here.

By the time you read this, it will be old news. The Kony 2012 meme has probably already exploded and splattered across the various portals, screens and networks of your sphere. Today everywhere I looked, there it was: my favorite blogs, Twitter feeds, Facebook wall, speakers of my office mate’s computer, and the hallway of the university where I work.

With its vast, instantaneous spread and quick linking without thought, this obviously made me curious, not just to learn more about the issue, but also to think about this as a phenomenon and lesson in the power of social media.

Admittedly the whole thing made me feel suspicious. But rather than indulge my critical tendencies, I thought it would be good to acknowledge that the people behind this project (Invisible Children) probably mean well and are doing what they think is the best solution to solve a terrible problem. So what follows are my initial thoughts about its positives, and then some reflections on those elements that make me guarded.

What it does right:

Demonstrating collective action around an idea, using a clear message, slogan and image. A successful campaign that has drawn attention to an area that usually is considered peripheral. Generating debate and dialog about best practices and methods. Showing the organic and open character of the internet in which an idea can be promoted and contested. Clever and persuasive use of cinema for the greater good. Connects global problem with local reality. Effective harnessing of empathy. Nice slogan: “Where you live shouldn’t determine whether your live.” Makes the political personal. Good use of social marketing by telling a story rather than just showing facts. Powerful design and packaging strategy.

Things that make me wary:

Presents a neoliberal/neocon vision of political activism, reducing it to brand politics not unlike focusing on the arrest and elimination of Osama Bin Laden as a means for solving a much bigger, systemic crisis. Pseudo-empowerment based on flattery of the activist. Politically safe action that reinforces existing power relations. Not very Afro-centric. Promoting the role of the US as global police force. Threatens to be meme of the week, and little more. Too self-referential, self-congratulatory, and ego-driven. Orientalist in that dark Africa is once again a means for the purification of a white man’s soul. A little too emotionally manipulative, bordering on the group pressure tactics of religious cults. Potential abuse of slick design and packaging strategy to mask larger complexities.

This story is unfolding rapidly. To get more context, check out Visible Children and The Guardian.