April 4, 2012

One Month Later

Hey team. One month ago the Kony Video blew up. I even posted it on this blog. But I quickly took it down when things got even more crazy. So here's my opinion column for my Intro to News Writing Class, with the great Glen Feighery. He is a phenomenal teacher, and I'm really going to miss this class. Enjoy!

For the United States, March 5 was like any other day. There were funny blogs to read, pictures to post, Tweets to catch up on. But one month ago, one charity changed the world of social media, again. With only four weeks under its belt, one 30-minute film has had more than 86 million views.

The short film is about a cause called Kony 2012, created for the charity Invisible Children, which is fighting against the Lord’s Resistance Army or the LRA in Africa, and stopping its tyrannical leader, Joseph Kony. Their taglines, including “KONY 2012” and “Stop at Nothing,” have truly caught fire, but will the fire continue to burn? With not-so-nice facts coming to light about the organization, should Americans have faith in charities anymore? Some of the facts included that a large portion of donations went to the making of the film and to others in the hierarchy of the organization. Next, where did the facts about the number of children (30,000-plus) come from? Where is Joseph Kony? Does anyone know? Finally, why is filmmaker Jason Russell was arrested for public indecency? But let’s start at the beginning.

I personally saw the video the night before it blew up, and I was dumbstruck with how fantastic it seemed. I was brought to tears a few times because of the huge problems the world has to deal with and the problems that have faced Africa for centuries. I also fully understand the effect that film can have on the world no matter who you are, or where you are from, because video has become the new international language.

But once it did blow up on Facebook, Twitter and the Internet, people started to get jazzed about a new cause to support. Others furrowed their brows about the actual charity, the problems it was minimizing and where all of the money was really going. Charley Riddle, a student at Utah State University, was a skeptical viewer, who clearly saw through the initial craze and realized people would calm down within a few weeks.

“It wasn’t that I was against helping, but I realized that it’s a huge problem,” Riddle said. “It has been going on for a long time. But people started going crazy about it. ‘It’s a moral issue and we need to fight tyranny!’ People were thinking that sending off a video made them a social activist, made them part of a solution. But one student or person can’t take down a militant dictator with one donation. The tangible solutions are so far off it’s incredible. I would never be against taking away evil from the world, but I wasn’t comfortable donating my money to an organization that was untrustworthy. You have unlimited power behind a keyboard, but no real world power came from it at all.”

There is also a bigger context. Michael Deibert of the Huffington Post states that the problem of the LRA is a lot more complicated than the video makes you believe.

“I have seen the well-meaning foreigners do plenty of damage before,” Deibert wrote. “So that is why people understanding the context and the history of the region is important before they blunder blindly forward to ‘help’ a people they don't understand. U.S. President Bill Clinton professed that he was ‘helping’ in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1990s and his help ended up with over 6 million people losing their lives. The same mistake should not be repeated today.”

So if we can’t trust Invisible Children, which charities can we trust? Should anyone be donating money to any organization? I’m not trying to be wary of everyone, and I’m also not saying never donate any of your money. Plenty of people out there are inherently good and do good to those who need it. But how do we sort through the bunch? The Kony film is emotional.  It almost makes you believe you can change the world with a single donation.

Andy Wing, a student at Brigham Young University, described his thoughts and feelings about the film—and his change of heart when he learned more.   

“When I first saw it, I was really moved emotionally,” Wing said.  “But a part of me said, ‘This is too good to be true. This is too easy to do this, and overthrow this wicked man.’ I didn’t want to believe that because I was so moved, and it was packaged so well. So I ReTweeted it and posted it on Facebook, but then I started looking into it more.  I saw really harsh criticisms of Invisible Children, but valid arguments were made. The charity has no idea how to overthrow this guy, and it’s going to be way more complicated than just getting politicians to flip a switch. Few have brought up that we will probably have to kill child soldiers in order to take Joseph Kony down. I’m not okay with that.”

So where do we go from here? Do we donate our $30 for an action kit, and hope that some of that money goes to the children who need it? Or will it be spent on Kony 2012 Posters, to be put up all over the country at the end of the month, so everyone can know the name Joseph Kony?

I personally have struggled to know what to do. I have come to the conclusion that I first have to help myself through education, through relearning compassion, and creativity, as a young child possesses. So when I have the means to approach charitable works, like helping those in foreign lands, I can be numbered among those who are brave enough to try. It may not be with Invisible Children, but there are ways to be useful and do good.

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