News Column

Kony 2012 Viral Video Stirs Debate

March 9, 2012

By Oren Dorell

A 30-minute film about atrocities by a central African warlord has created a social media buzz as the video takes the Internet by storm, causing some critics to lambast it as doing more harm than good.

Kony 2012, has been viewed 41 million times on YouTube, most of them on Thursday. An addtional 445,000 people have "liked" it on Facebook. And on Twitter, celebrities such as Justin Beiber, Will Smith and J.K. Rowling have pushed the trend by sending out tweets. One tweet by P. Diddy was retweeted more than 57,000 times.

The video has gone viral, and even White House spokesman Jay Carney referenced it Thursday in his daily briefing.

Filmmaker Jason Russell, who heads the San Diego organization Invisible Children, introduces his audience to Joseph Kony, who for 26 years led the Lord's Resistance Army in the jungle in and around Uganda. The United Nations and the International Criminal Court say that Kony, backed by child soldiers, comforted by girl sex slaves and fed by a campaign of terror against Ugandan villagers, has abducted, mutilated and killed tens of thousands of children and adults.

Russell's Invisible Children website urges visitors to send donations and buy T-shirts, bracelets and posters, as well as "action kits," which include all three. Money from the kits goes toward education and security programs in central Africa, and an advocacy campaign in the U.S. to promote the cause, according to Russell.

Critics such as J. Peter Pham, an Africa expert at the Atlantic Council, question the timing of the awareness campaign and say that Russell has oversimplified the conflict in central Africa.

The film sends the message that Kony "is the sole source of evil in this part of the world and simply by sending in $30 for an action kit you've solved this problem," Pham says. "When in fact, you've stirred up a hornet's nest."

Pham says the timing is bad because U.S. troops already on the ground and diplomatic efforts underway would work best "in the shadows."

The Obama administration sent 100 special operations troops in October to work with Ugandan forces to root out Kony and his band of fighters. Another group of U.S. forces is working with the Congo and other neighboring countries to catch Kony.

An African leader such as long-time strongman Joseph Kabila of the Congo is unlikely to allow foreign troops on his soil "now that you've trained flood lights on him" with this film, Pham says. "If you want to catch Kony, I can't think of a dumber thing to do."

Many bloggers question the timing of the video's release because the U.S. military is already involved in trying to find Kony in Uganda and the Congo. They also question the integrity of the fundraising effort. According to Invisible Children's financial statements, 37% of its $8.9 million 2011 budget was spent on programs in Africa, and 35% was spent on awareness programs.

Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2012

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