Andrew on Slacktivism2012

Nathanael Yellis By Nathanael Yellis • Last Updated May 18, 2021

The guru chimes in on Kony & what that whole deal says about us:

We have all seen the social media campaign promoting the new Invisible Children film “Kony 2012”.  After watching this short film, a new generation of slacktivists have sprung out of the ground ready to champion this cause.  But what are they promoting?  And how? 

Our culture is inundated with awareness campaigns.  Invisible Children is an archetype of an organization using much of their money to drive a message.  Using funds on media campaigns is not intrinsically wrong, and is common nonprofit practice.  However, there is something wrong with an organization raising millions with the primary goal of reaching more people, driving more funds, and cycling more awareness. 

Internet exposure is the method of awareness building for Kony 2012.  This taps into a newer phenomenon in the nonprofit sector called ‘slacktivism’.  At its core, slacktivism is a low communication, commitment, and time cost method of group formation, rarely resulting in substantive change. 

We were exposed to slacktivism by the Livestrong campaign.  Most people have worn that yellow wristband.  What is the status of that cause today?  Where did your donated dollars end up?  That campaign cost a few dollars, but allowed people to proclaim their support at a low cost, transforming teens into ‘activists’.   

Today, slacktivism requires even less.  Participants do not need to spend money or even physically move.  As anyone in nonprofits will tell you, real activism can not be found in a hastag, even if it trends worldwide.  In a world of instant gratification, the ability to make ‘meaningful change’ becomes infinitely more appealing when it requires only a couple clicks.  What does this do to those who are actually doing hard work, as attention and resources are drawn away from them and redirected towards social media updates?  Slacktivism, by reducing the cost of real change to simple awareness campaigns, misdirects money and energy from the problem to what makes people feel good. 

Updating your status cannot accomplish anything of substance.  With this in mind, what is the goal of the Kony 2012 campaign?  When researching further into the situation, it becomes very muddled. 

Are they trying to find Joseph Kony or eradicate the LRA?  He has not been seen for six years.  He is: listed on Interpol wanted lists following ICC condemnation, a household name in all of Africa, and being hunted by a coalition of four nation’s armies.  Many believe Joseph Kony is already dead.  The LRA currently numbers below two hundred.  The thirty thousand child soldiers referenced in Kony 2012 were abducted across thirty years.  Neither Kony nor the LRA are even based in Uganda. 

The United States has already taken action.  Last October, following overwhelming government support, President Obama sent nearly one hundred security advisers to Uganda to help train their army to find Joseph Kony.  There is no legitimate threat of mission cancellation, as Kony 2012 implies. 

The international community was working to bring down Joseph Kony before the Kony 2012 campaign began.  So what is the point of the millions of dollars IC is spending to raise awareness? 

Are they trying to ‘fix’ Uganda?  In order to help Uganda, you first must listen to the Ugandan people.  According to Ugandan journalists, their country is the furthest from war-torn it has been in years, a fact left out of Kony 2012.  When surveyed, Ugandans said their most pressing daily concern was healthcare, which IC has spent no money on since their inception.  In contrast, three percent said justice was a priority.  Eighty percent of Ugandans think peace should be obtained through amnesty, in direct opposition to IC’s goals.  To all appearances, IC is an example of Amerians deciding what poor African countries need.  This is the opposite of successful development work, and what is supported by slacktivists who have not taken time to learn the facts.  (Survey facts from 2008 ICTJ Report) 

Awareness is not very effective, and here what little it can do has been misdirected.  People are feeling good about ‘raising awareness’ when they are, at worst, perpetuating self-serving myths.  Uganda needs and deserves more than a cycle of awareness campaigns. 

I know helping people feels good.  After being involved with a Chinese non-profit since high school, I am heading there for two years to serve people.  That is the sort of activism that makes a difference.  The people truly enthused about Kony 2012 need to inform themselves about the issue (which takes more than 30 minutes from one source), prepare themselves professionally, and become the change they think the world needs. 

Change requires costly action.  Think twice about awareness campaigns that do little more than make you feel good at the lowest possible expense.


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