Kony 2012: Inspiration for Youth Activism, or Manipulation and Hype?


I believe it’s important to encourage teenagers to develop a sense of  philanthropy. One aspect of the teenage mentality is a sense of narcissism and insularity. Thinking of others is a great way for them to overcome their complete focus on themselves and their own needs. Plus, it’s pretty incredible to watch them develop a passion for a cause.


Social media has become a very effective way for charities to get their word out and inspire action. But is it a good thing, or are these organizations playing on kids’ propensity to jump on anything that goes viral?

A few days ago, my 16-year-old son came to me and said, “I want to get involved with what’s going on in Africa.”

I said, “That’s wonderful, son.” He then said, “I want to buy a bracelet to support a charity called Invisible Children. Can I?”

“Sure, son. I love it when you want to support others.”

He texted me later: “Go on my Facebook page and view a video. It’s long, but I want you to watch it.”

Thinking it was a music video or something like that, I put the request in the “watch later” file. He asked me again at dinner, “Did you watch the video?” And, again about two hours later. I didn’t watch it.

The next morning, he said, “I sent you an email.” The email had a link. So, I watched.

It was the Kony 2012 video, produced by Invisible Children. Have you watched it? Joseph Kony is the fugitive leader of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army. He is guilty of war crime lists a mile long, included kidnapping thousands of children and forcing them to act as foot soldiers or prostitutes. The purpose of the video is to raise awareness of Kony so that he will finally be arrested.

Invisible Children has truly leveraged the power and virality of the Internet to publicize their organization and mission. The Kony 2012 campaign was launched with one tweet. And so far, as of March 11, the YouTube video had garnered over 71 million views. Controversy surrounding Invisible Children  (it got an overall charitable rating of three out of four but only two stars for accountability and transparency) and the late-timed nature of the campaign (Kony was indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2005) haven’t seemed to affect the video’s popularity. In fact, it seems to have driven it.

Detractors feel that Invisible Children’s priorities and motivation are completely out of whack with the nature of their cause (Invisible Children is accused of providing funds to the Ugandan government’s army and other military forces which allegedly committed rape and looting, though the charity has denied the allegations). But yet, the movement continues to become stronger, amplified by the fast fingers of our children, the messages in the video that specifically appeal to teens, and the influence of celebrities.

Kony 2012 truly is feeding off the power of the Internet, combined with the age-old adage, “There is NO bad press.”

So, how are teens reacting?  Well, I only know what’s happening in my house. My own son, after doing a bit of research, has become a bit soured on Invisible Children. He stopped asking to purchase a bracelet, and other than a Facebook post denouncing the video, I haven’t heard another word about it.

Others are still climbing on the bandwagon, though, and spreading the word.

I said to my son, “It must suck to be you.” What I meant was, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to still believe in the purpose of Kony 2012, and feel like you’re participating in something big? He says no. He’d rather find a cause that he truly believes in, wholeheartedly. It looks like my son has dodged the viral bullet. I just hope that this experience hasn’t made him too cynical.

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What’s your opinion of the Kony 2012 campaign? Will criticisms about the charity interfere with teens’ positive activism? 

(Post first published on www.ourkids.net)

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