Monday, December 31, 2012

Kony 2013 - How quickly we forget the Invisible

It's fun looking back at 2012 and reading what others found to be the highlights. But I note that events older than a couple of months rarely figure prominently. My theory is that, without the aid of media to remind us, we have a collective memory for current affairs of about 6 weeks. So I don't see the KONY 2012 project mentioned anywhere. Remember this viral video? 

I note that the counter on YouTube is currently at 95,739,821 views. But when I see articles this week indicating that YouTube is revising down the number of page views claimed by record companies (by a collective billion views) then I begin to wonder whether 95 million people really watched this documentary all the way through or whether some clever software didn't help to boost the numbers. But even if the number of pageviews is really half that being claimed, it is certainly one of the most successful videos on Youtube, especially as Gangnam Style (now on 1.08 billion views) is not a documentary with a call to action.

2 million watched the follow-up video released in April 2012

And then we had that weird report of the Kony Founder, Jason Russell, being arrested on March 15th 2012  for screaming at traffic while being naked. Since then, not a lot of positive news about KONY.

Until now, when around 8000 people have been curious enough to watch the end of the year report.

The idea for the awareness and action campaign was actually around a lot earlier when the US organisation Invisible Children set up an early warning tracking radio network in the area where Kony and the Lords Resistance Army are believed to be hiding. It uses ham radio gear operating on shortwave (around 7 MHz) to link villages. There's also a separate network of 6 FM radio stations broadcasting regular messages from ex-LRA members encouraging them to defect. Invisible Children helps to construct stations and/or otherwise fund the transmission of the "Come Home" message. They're hoping to raise a further 100,000 dollars in 2013 to fund further expansion.

They also run flyer campaigns reminiscent of the way the US military (psyops)  have run pamphlet campaigns over Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan in the past.

But what have we learned?

  • Invisible Children are masters in making video campaigns. But the story remains vastly oversimplified. We're not hearing much about the side effects is this campaign, which is increased support by the US for Yoweri Museveni, the dictatorial and kleptocratic leader of Uganda.
  • I don't think we're seeing anything like the full side of the story as it plays out inside Uganda. Although Invisible Children are good at starting conversations and creating awareness, I doubt the long term impact. That's because it's not clear how the victims of the LRA are being helped by the Invisible Children campaign. Indeed the reactions to the Happy Clappy video produced below were apparently rather negative in Uganda itself. All this is several months ago, since then silence.

  • YouTube has become the platform of choice in many Western countries to raise public awareness for any cause. More effective than many appeals on traditional radio and TV.
  • Radio, especially FM Radio, is the most effective way to connect these particular groups of people. The message to come home is mixed in with music and other local news, all in local languages. If only the same sort of funding went in to regional radio projects in Somalia.
  • Invisible Children says it's helping to set up the stations - although to what extent these stations will survive if Kony is captured remains to be seen. 
  • I thought the best and most constructive criticism of the KONY campaign came from Ethan Zuckerman and Visible Children. Haven't seen much in the way of specific answers from Invisible Children. So, I have to say that although their method has all the hall-marks of military precision, I believe there are other more important priorities. And where is mainstream media when it comes to investigative journalism? Too obsessed with other distractions like a Fiscal Cliff. 
  • Update: Jan 15th. Views of this particular post are off the chart. I guess it's because I tagged it with KONY. 

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