This is a guest post by Angelita Williams and represents her views.
If you keep up with non-profit current events or are a fairly involved Facebook user, then you likely have heard about the controversy surrounding the Kony 2012 video, produced by charity organization Invisible Children. While the making of the film was very well-intentioned and well-produced, its subsequent viral popularity is an important development to consider as we become involved in various volunteer activities, especially those that include involvement overseas.
So what went wrong with Kony 2012? Did it not bring to light that Joseph Kony has engaged in incredibly heinous crimes against humanity, including the abduction and forced labor of young children? Very few in the western world, particularly in the United States, knew who Kony even was before Invisible Children’s video, and if there is one thing that can be said of the Kony 2012 video is that it certainly raised awareness.
But, as a recent Foreign Policy opinion editorial pointed out, “raising awareness” is not an effective goal in the realm of volunteerism. As David Rieff notes in the article:
“If one watches the music-video-style evocation in Kony 2012 of crowds of young people joyfully mobilizing en masse to demand Kony’s arrest, it is quite hard to believe Invisible Children’s claim that their campaign encourages deep thinking — or, frankly, any thinking at all — beyond the expression of moral outrage. In the end, this is Kony 2012‘s deepest flaw. For what it is actually peddling (under the flag of grassroots activism and a universal ethics of caring) is little more than a cheap techno-utopianism that conflates the entirely admirable wish for a better world with the belief that knowing how to move toward it is a simple matter, requiring more determination and goodwill than knowledge.”
In the case of Kony 2012, which beseeches viewers to essentially advocate for U.S. military intervention in a region that most Americans know anything about, simply raising awareness can be dangerous. Viewers should always be provided with call to actions, and raising awareness should be coupled with more knowledge of appropriate next steps. Is military action the only option? Could we be encouraged to take other steps- and what are the ramifications for those actions when we are unfamiliar with the culture and environment in other parts of the world?
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be involved in volunteer activities beyond our borders. But involvement should entail substantive work, not merely clicking “Like” after watching a video on Facebook that addresses an injustice without giving it any context. If you are thinking about going overseas to do volunteer work, it’s especially important to be aware of the country’s cultures, national conflicts, and history. This gives you a well of knowledge from which to draw when going about your duties, knowledge that will help you do your job better because you truly understand the people you are trying to help.
We see Invisible Children learned this and worked to embody it with their follow-up video. While it gained less traction, it might have been better suited to equip volunteers.
What do you think about Kony 2012? Has it shaped the way that you think about social media and volunteerism? What may be a better way to use social media and approach injustices of the likes perpetrated by Kony?
Angelita Williams is a freelance blogger who specializes in education-related content. She’s familiar with educational practices for every age and lifestyle, from online college courses to homeschooling to traditional learning. You can contact Angelita anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.