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Kony 2012 Campaign Shines Light on the Nature of Internet Activism

Have you heard of Joseph Kony? You’re reading a blog on the Internet, aren’t you? Then of course you have. For the three of you who are somehow reading this scrawled on the wall underneath the rock you call home, I’ll break it down for you quick: Joseph Kony is a bad dude from Uganda. He abducts and conscripts children into his own personal army. He’s pretty much a monster and he should probably be stopped; that much is straight forward. When a video about Kony by the charity Invisible Children blew up though, things got really complicated and have really shone a light on this weird, weird thing that is Internet Activism.

So, we can all agree that Kony is a bad dude and he should be stopped, right? That’s about where the agreement ends. What can we, as average citizens, do about this bad dude? A few things: donate to a charity, lobby government officials or whoever else might have the power to do something about it, or — and this is the annoying crux of Internet Activism —  “raise awareness.

So let’s go in order here. The first option is to donate to charity. It’s a lot more complicated than it sounds. Obviously, the charity that created this video, Invisible Children, would have you donate to them. There’s been some backlash about whether Invisible Children is a “good charity” or not. I could probably go on about this all day. Suffice it to say that some people are raising questions as to how much of donations to Invisible Children go to the cause. Invisible Children has its own retorts, there are an awful lot of charities out there, and everyone is busy “raising awareness” of any number of these points. It’s practically impossible to figure out which way is up, and if you do, good luck getting anyone to pay attention to you among all the awareness that’s being raised.

Ok, so maybe you can lobby people. This worked with SOPA, right? It has to work with Kony. Well, with SOPA the problem was a bill that was about to be voted on by each and every state representative. Easy to figure out who to pester there. With Kony, you’re talking about a matter of international politics that could possibly require out-and-out military action to solve and it’s on a continent that’s still reeling from the fact that nearly all of its countries’ governments and borders were pretty arbitrarily defined by a bunch of culturally ignorant Imperialist politicians in the late 1800s to boot. It’s pretty complicated, and I think you’d probably have a really hard time finding the right person to talk to much less figuring out what to say to them. But I guess that’s why you give money to a charity that can figure that all out (See issue #1).

So what’s an activist to do? Raise awareness of course. But of what? That’s the problem that this whole Kony meme — can I call it a “meme?” — has really raised awareness of. There has been a bit of a backlash against all the awareness raising, like the college freshman meme posted above. Here, check out a few more from Know Your Meme:

 

They make a valid point. Raising awareness is all well and good, but that’s pretty much where Internet Activism begins and ends. The first step to solving any problem is knowing that it’s a problem, the second and third are understanding it and then solving it. Internet Activism is good at step one, and significantly less effective at the other two.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with raising awareness but in excess it can annoy people into complacency or give participants a relatively unwarranted sense of accomplishment — considering how little has been accomplished. In a cruel twist of irony, the “anti-Internet Activism” Internet Activism has raised awareness of this conundrum, but little else. Now, I can’t say I have a solution to any of these problems, but these are issues worth devoting some thought to. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go pat myself on the back for raising the Internet’s collective level of meta-awareness.

(Header image via quickmeme, others via Know Your Meme: 1, 2, 3, and 4)

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