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kony 2012: help or hype?

March 8, 2012

Joseph Kony certainly isn’t a nice guy, and anyone doing what he does (i.e., trying to establish a theocratic government in part by abducting children and turning them into soldiers or sex slaves) definitely needs to be stopped. That said, my opinion of the viral KONY 2012 documentary is that, while it does a good job of tugging at your heartstrings and is a great marketing tactic for Invisible Children Inc., there are a couple of things that bother me about it. One is its approach, which I found too reliant on emotional appeals and sensationalism. Another is its oversimplification of the issue and events in Uganda in general.

As for the group itself, they’re not without their fair share of controversy. For example, according to a 2011 Foreign Affairs‘ article, Invisible Children “manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA’s use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony — a brutal man, to be sure — as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil.” And according to financial reports, Invisible Children only spends about 31% of total funds on directly helping anyone (e.g., last year they spent roughly $2.8 million out of $8.9 million directly on projects in Africa, with the rest being spent on things like salaries, transportation, awareness programs, and production costs for films). In addition, they many also help support the Ugandan government/army and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army financially, both of which have been accused of committing their fair share of atrocities, including things like rape, looting, and the use of child soldiers.

In short, I like the idea of people trying to make a positive difference in the world, and I think the video is an innovative way of raising social awareness and inspiring people to get involved in a good cause, not to mention a brilliant piece of marketing; but you may want to think twice before donating to Invisible Children and/or spreading this video around. And if you do want to help but don’t feel comfortable with Invisible Children, there’s a host of other organizations out there to donate to. For example, The Daily What suggests Africare, AMREF USA, Children of the Nations, and Water.org, all of which have “a sparkling four-star rating from Charity Navigator, and, more importantly, no interest in airdropping American troops armed to the teeth into the middle of a multi-nation tribal war to help one madman catch another.”

Update (12:56pm): It seems that Invisible Children has responded to all the criticism surrounding their KONY 2012 campaign, addressing most, if not all, of the issues mentioned above here. I don’t really have the motivation to dig deeper and respond to their response, so I figure I’ll leave it up to those who want to donate to Invisible Children to decide whether they’re legit. I was simply suspicious of Invisible Children due to all the negative things I read about them, and just wanted people to think twice before throwing their money at them.

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