Letter to the Editor: why “Kony 2012” is trending

More than 64,000,000 people have viewed the “Kony 2012” viral video since March 5 and expressed their loathing for Ugandan guerilla warrior and Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony. The atrocities carried out by Kony for over 30 years have become household conversation in a week’s time. How could any message mobilize so quickly? “Kony 2012” has appealed to hearts, minds, wallets and skeptics. Despite public ambivalence, “Kony 2012” is a testament to how effective social media can be. Invisible Children, Inc., the non-profit organization that produced “Kony 2012,” has advocated the ingenuity of free online social networks to raise awareness. As “Kony 2012” has emboldened the World Wide Web with humanistic compassion, it has become an unprecedented media sensation worth a closer look.

A well-calculated approach that Invisible Children, Inc. uses on their website incorporates “the culturemakers” and “the policymakers” — several handpicked icons that define popular culture and will produce trickle-down publicity for “Kony 2012.” The website encourages visitors to message the likes of Oprah, George Clooney, Tim Tebow, Bill Clinton and Mitt Romney about stopping the infamous Joseph Kony. This serves to prioritize “Kony 2012” as a pop culture value as opposed to marginalized foreign policy.

Invisible Children, Inc. also strategically appeals to the youth. Jason Russell, the face of “Kony 2012,” says that the organization’s efforts have been “… funded by an army of young people who put their money toward their belief in the value of all human life.” They have certainly targeted promising investors, considering that the prospect of online social networks is more likely among tech-savvy adolescents. Also, the recent Occupy movements have created a widespread sense of self-righteous action. Some critics emphasize that youth are more credulous because they are less informed. Joe, a father from Michigan, called in his concern on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” saying that, “[Kony 2012] is getting money and support from children that really don’t have an idea of the gravity of the situation itself … thinking, ‘I got to give them $10 and get a bracelet.’”

A question is raised whether purchasing “Kony 2012” merchandise, sharing the video link or tweeting serves more to inflate our inner philanthropist than save the abducted children of Uganda. Teju Cole, a Nigerian-American writer and professor at Bard College, recently coined these motivations as the “White Savior Industrial Complex” — the theory that affluent nations make social movements trendy in order to feel better about themselves. Cole also used online social networks to publicize his sentiments, tweeting that, “The White Savior Industrial

Complex is not about justice. It is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.” Cole emphasized inconsistencies such as, “the white savior supports brutal policies in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening.” Cole’s short but provocative tweets have been picked up by news syndicates across the globe.

The “Kony 2012” campaign has become relevant and profitable, thanks to remarkable social marketing that utilized the most effective networks. Invisible Children, Inc. makes you want a donation bracelet whether you despise Joseph Kony or not. Their viral video is emotionally charged, concise, inspiring and even incorporates Flux Pavillion’s Dubstep chart-topper “I Can’t Stop” — sounds like a recipe for success.
Maxwell Taylor, junior