OPINION: #KONY2012 is slactivism and the Internet is gullible

In the past 24 hours, the name Joseph Kony has become the biggest meme in the world. It’s everywhere. The hashtag is trending worldwide on Twitter. As this post is getting written, over 1.2 million people “Like” Invisible Children on Facebook. For those who haven’t seen the Kony 2012 video posted all over Facebook and Twitter, you’re probably sleeping, at work, or don’t pay attention.

A video released two days ago calls on the youth of the world to use the one thing at their fingertips that doesn’t cost money to spread a message – the Internet. The video already has over 7 million views. Mission accomplished.

The message is this: Joseph Kony is the leader of African rebel group Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, that for 26 years has abducted upwards of 30,000 children, and either forced them into service as child soliders (which general entails murdering your own parents and other horrific assignments) or sex slaves. Kony and the LRA have escaped the notice of the US government and the ICC for a significant amount of time because, as the video puts it, it was a waste of time because neither our national security nor financial interests were involved.

But for Invisibile Children, the non-profit organization behind the video, “Where you live shouldn’t determine whether you live.” It’s a great idea that’s making a long-overdue human rights issue very visibile to this generation.

Invisible Children aims to create a worldwide movement that in the next 10 months would convince governments to capture and arrest Kony and put an end to the violence in Africa. The movement, obviously, will be spread on the web, like so many other movements this year.

But there’s a catch.

How much does it do to sign a petition and repost a video? It can do a lot – sure. But real activism involves getting off the computer, informing yourself fully and getting into the streets. Relying on Gen Y to pass the message along isn’t enough. The action needs to be more than that, and here’s why:

Invisible Children’s crusade to arrest and disarm Kony includes a plan that also uses violence – American troops, your tax dollars – as well as the Ugandan army and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army… another incredibly violent African militia.

A website called Visible Children makes it plain by posting a blog post about the Kony 2012 campaign.

“Both the Ugandan army and Sudan People’s Liberation Army are riddled with accusations of rape and looting, but Invisible Children defends them, arguing that the Ugandan army is “better equipped than that of any of the other affected countries”, although Kony is no longer active in Uganda and hasn’t been since 2006 by their own admission. These books each refer to the rape and sexual assault that are perennial issues with the UPDF, the military group Invisible Children is defending.”

This site is very clear that the aim of the Kony 2012 campaing is true – Kony is a bad guy. But we don’t need to all jump on one charity’s band wagon because they make an awesome video (it really is very well-made). There are other ways to get rid of Kony and end the exploitation of children in Africa that don’t include violence or the American military. We shouldn’t always fight violence with violence.

It’s worth thinking about that before you repost the video and tell all your friends to get behind this one particular organization.

Alex Pearlman I love the John Adams miniseries, the Disney version of Peter Pan, and 'A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.' My heroes include Aaron Sorkin, Audrey Hepburn, Gloria Steinem, Woody Allen and Allen Ginsberg. I don't like the two-party system, I do like crossword puzzles. I like red wine, I don't like fascists. I like big ideas, I don't like apathy. I like Wikileaks, I don't like censorship. I believe journalism needs a full-blown revolution to survive. Also, I'm the Editor in Chief of The Next Great Generation. Twitter: @lexikon1

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20 Responses to “OPINION: #KONY2012 is slactivism and the Internet is gullible”

  1. Welina

    Thank you for writing this. I think something like I.C. that pulls at the chords of your heart is hard to refute but it helps to look at it from a critical point of view.

  2. Kier

    Fabulous point. But the inspiration and popularity of this video and movement comes in part from its accessibly. If you had any knowledge of the issue before, you probably felt helpless- not knowing what you could do to help short of joining the peace corp. This told us how we could help.
    So my question to you.. What do we do?

    • Alex Pearlman

      Hi Kier – you’re right. There wasn’t a lot that could be done before, because very few people were listening or caring. This is incredible in terms of spreading awareness. Now it’s time to talk online – now that we’re all informed – about other options. Maybe Human Rights Watch, maybe the Red Cross… Maybe some other charity that doesn’t have money to make a big video? I don’t know – but let’s talk about ideas and solutions with all these newly informed people! That’s the real take-away here.

  3. Jamie

    Wait, did I miss the point in this video where it talked about fighting violence with violence?

    • Alex Pearlman

      Hey Jamie! Thanks for reading… The thing is, it’s not in the video. But if you look at Invisible Children’s plan, they’re pretty clear about using both the American military and the Ugandan army. Not peace keepers – military. We “invaded” Uganda in October. I’m just not ok with that, and I’m not ok with paying for it. NATO peacekeepers? Sure.

  4. Jamie

    No worries. Thought you REALLY didn’t like my comment at first and were yelling at me. Haha.

    I think from a strategic standpoint, the military needs to be involved to be successful. That doesn’t mean aggressive military force, but simply by being there along with any peacekeeping efforts, everyone would be much more successful. The use of military and the use of violence shouldn’t be confused.

  5. Christianna

    It does NOT mean that we “invaded” Uganda; just because the military got involved. I agree with Jamie. The military needs to be involved to be successful. They’re there to ADVISE AND ASSIST. You speak of how you DON’T agree with the way Invisible Children is handling this. You say that there are other ways but are you promoting these other ways? Doing anything about it? No, just criticizing. It’s going to work because we believe that it’s going to work and we are DOING SOMETHING about it.

    • Amir

      You’re doing something because it’s the flavor of the week.

    • Alex Pearlman

      Hi Christianna, thanks for reading! If you look at the comments above, I’ve said that there are other options besides the military. And I’m sorry, but if you think the US Army has every *only* advised and assisted in a foreign country, you’re very naive. It has never worked – any time the US forces have gone in and given guns and money to one bad group to fight another bad group, we end up screwing up the region for decades. Look at El Salvador, Nicaragua, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. those were all places we stared with “assistance” years ago.

  6. Amir Jafari

    Spot on Alex. I share a post on Facebook and all of a sudden i’m a humanitarian! Thing is, military action wouldn’t solve the issue as a whole. Employing child soldiers has been intact throughout Uganda, Congo, Sudan, Liberia, Pakistan, Palestine and South America for centuries. In addition, the Ugandan army, especially the RRU have committed heaps of human rights violations in the past year alone, including killing of children, rape of women, looting, torture, and arbitrary detention. The whole Kony2012 campaign, like many other campaigns, share the same institutionalized setup as Alex Jones : Become aware of the unaware, promote the unaware, buy their products, donate, then blindly embed yourself into their agenda. But to be honest Alex, I’m really not sure if peacekeeping will deter anything. Hope all is well. -amir

  7. NaEun Park

    I really appreciate this opinion piece. I think it’s about being a conscious supporter. Solving the problem is not as easy as it seems but it’s also not a “scam” as some people are calling it. Just take time to learn about what you are actually supporting or donating money to. It’s YOUR choice. Check out my opinion piece: http://t.co/XP7mo66i

  8. dave


    It really doesn’t matter what the charitable organizations direction is. If 10 less children get raped in the world because 7 million people watched a video that made them care a little more about becoming involved than it is a good thing. I share Amir cynical viewpoint, but when the well being of children is on the line I think it is a good time to put it all aside and help. No matter how redundant you think it might be.

  9. Michelle

    I think your opinion towards Invisible Children spending “money to make a big video” is misdirected. The awareness they created about this issue with this video is more than they would have ever created by just talking “about ideas and solutions.” After 8 years they are doing something about this issue – they are taking major actions, whereas Red Cross or whoever is still “talking” and sharing ideas. Red Cross and people will begin to share ideas organically, and that’s thanks to the awareness they got through this video.

  10. Michelle

    My comment was in response to your response to Kier — “Hi Kier – you’re right. There wasn’t a lot that could be done before, because very few people were listening or caring. This is incredible in terms of spreading awareness. Now it’s time to talk online – now that we’re all informed – about other options. Maybe Human Rights Watch, maybe the Red Cross… Maybe some other charity that doesn’t have money to make a big video? I don’t know – but let’s talk about ideas and solutions with all these newly informed people! That’s the real take-away here.”

  11. Nicki Mac (Fourth Estate)

    I urge to take a look at this link. http://s3.amazonaws.com/www.invisiblechildren.com/critiques.html
    It is an official statement made by Invisible Children, and they address all of the question/ concerns you may have. These should provide an accurate and more detailed explanation over the various rumours and falsehoods that have arisen over the globalisation of Kony2012. The main issue surrounding this campaign is to end a war, and we would very much like to keep it at that, and would appreciate the respect of others during this. We fully understand that some people may not want to support it and we are not forcing anyone to believe in something they don’t want to. We would like everyone else to have this same respect.

  12. Siya Africa

    Alex you hit the nail on the head. The wisdom of the crowd really failed when it came to this issue. Everyone was duped by the great cinematography and heart string pulling interview to actually dig deeper and do some background research on the issue of Joseph Kony and child soldiers in Uganda. Sometimes memes can be disruptive and this one, while it had its heart in the right place, did not address or suggest proper recourse in the matter. And further more the voices of Africans themselves were not take into consideration.

  13. Pascal

    As far as I know, Invisible Children is getting just what they aimed for, making Kony famous. Everyone is talking about it–positively and negatively. And it’s helping spread the word about Kony. I, myself, am a little uncertain about the organization. But I think the organization will continue to exist and I will call their Kony movement a a partial success.

  14. James


    I liked your article, and am in the process of writing something about “Slacktivism” myself. I wonder if you could let me know where you got the “Social Activism” picture from, and if it is held under Creative Commons or not. I would like to use it.




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