Kony and the battle between hope and cynicism
If you pay attention to social networks even at a passive level, there is a good chance that the name Kony has floated through your radar in the past few days. Kony, refers to Joseph Kony – a very bad dude from Uganda. He’s the perpetrator of all sorts of nasty stuff from forced prostitution to child soldiers. He’s one of the worlds most wanted men and until three days ago nobody knew who he was. Everything changed when this video from Invisible Children was posted just a few days ago.
In what is perhaps the best example in the history of the internet the power of social media has caused this video – all 30min of it, to be watched a staggering 40 million times – and that’s in the last three days. Just think about that number for a moment – 40 million. What has caused this video to go truly viral, I believe, is the overriding sense of hope and empowerment the film instils in the viewer. It’s hard to escape from the general sense of detachment that the youth of today feel about the political landscape. With an ever more ideological entrenching baby-boomer generation growing grey on the seats of power, if you are sub-thirty having a political voice is harder than ever. Enter social media. This video is a direct call to action – tangible steps that everyday people can do to affect positive change in the world. It’s shining a light onto a forgotten corner of the earth that doesn’t have oil or strategic value – this is an issue that truly is for the benefit of humanity.
There are cynics and critics. Some have been quick to paint the campaign with the brush of colonialism and the disempowerment of Africa as an autonomous region that can take of itself and it’s own problems. Critics have poked holes in Invisible Children and their business practices and other have rightly pointed out that the issue isn’t nearly as straightforward as the proposed solution describes. All of this is at least arguably true but in essence this doesn’t matter at all.
What matters and what has really changed the world is that the youth of America and the world have discovered that they have a voice – and now they know where they can use it. For all the good intentions of the occupy movement the goals were either so lofty or abstract that there was never going to be any real change come from it. You can’t set up a campsite and expect the entire world to abandon capitalism. That sort of misguided idealism is laughable. But this – this is a tangible, achievable goal. It’s an issue that has been brought into sharp focus from deep in the shadows. Sub-Saharan Africa isn’t on anybody’s radar. These big, human issues are problems that cost money, which you’ll never make back in trade or real estate. In the driest of terms, there isn’t any reason for a government to get involved, except for the most human of reasons – it’s the right thing to do. When was the last time they did something like that?
What this demonstrates in the most elegant and in your face of test cases is that the power of social change has become socialized and crowd-sourced. The big global issues that we face from here on out will not be brought to our attention from the channels of a government stacked with ulterior motives – the issues that we choose to support from today on will be brought to our attention from within our global community. And this campaign with its inevitable legion of supporters will be impossible for anyone – governments included, to ignore.
Stopping Kony will make the lives of literally millions of Africans better. But what will have perhaps have an even bigger impact over the long term is that the campaign itself has changed the world – and it only took one well made video, 40 million views and three days.