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Kony 2012: Is social media the new solution to social and political problems?

By Hsin-Yi Lo - posted Monday, 14 May 2012

The Kony Film 2012 launched by the American not for profit organisation Invisible Children became an instant hit. The documentary was used to raise awareness of Joseph Kony’s crimes against humanity and to increase donations for their “Stop Kony” campaign. Once the film went viral, it fired up intense discussions about its credibility.

This controversial campaign leads to bigger questions about the limitations of social media campaigns to solve deep-rooted political and social issues.

By now you know who Joseph Kony is and you can also probably recount a short biography of him. He is the Ugandan leader of the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) which sets sights on establishing a theocratic state based on the Ten Commandments. . The International Criminal Court has listed him as one of the most wanted men and Kony is accused of crimes such as murder, rape and sexual enslavement, torture, looting and abduction of children and forcing them to become child soldiers. 


The film called for global support and asked the world to participate in an event on April 20 to rally for the arrest of Kony. In Australia alone, 50,000 Australians signed up for the event and supporters around the world even planned to overwhelm their streets with “Stop Kony” red posters and supporters in Perth claimed they were ready to “paint their town red”.  In Washington, New York, San Diego, Austin and Los Angeles, followers hung “wanted” posters of Kony in their streets.

All well and good, but to this author, the Kony Film 2012 is another example of Slacktivism.

The film wants audiences to take part in this ‘feel good campaign’. It gave audiences the impression that if we play our part in showing support for the “Stop Kony” campaign, we can get rid of Kony and this will end the suffering and hardships in Uganda. 

The “Stop Kony” campaign is successful in firing up people’s inner desire for justice – enough to make them want Kony arrested and tried. However the film does not offer in-depth analysis or awareness of the social and political complexities that are happening in the Central African region and this oversimplification has perhaps clouded supporters’ understanding of the situation.

The film largely focusses on Kony’s heinous crimes. Former Ugandan presidential candidate Norbert Mao commented "let those who are the professors write their books and create academic awareness. But this one grabs your gut and shakes you until you are forced to pay attention."

The film has been viewed more than 38 million times on Youtube and more than 13 million times on Vimeo. The message of the film is a call for quick response, appealing to the world as well as world leaders to stop Kony.


The film also has inaccuracies such as claiming Kony is still in Uganda when he has not been in Uganda for six years. The film has also been criticised for using excessive emotional appeal to simplify the problems LRA is causing.

Senior Lecturer Dr Tanya Lyons, who is the President of Africa Studies Centre in Flinders University, commented “I think it's quite interesting the film producer was willing to exploit a young child in a good versus evil, very emotive, documentary, which is trying to tap into the western guilt for inaction".  


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About the Author

Hsin-Yi Lo is a freelance writer. She was a journalist with Newsquest Media's Brighton Argus and Echo Essex newspaper and online titles. In her spare time she enjoys movies, gaming, reading and travelling.

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