KONY —- The real story, well at least one parents view of what it actually did accomplish!!!

I was happy to have both my son and daughter come to me and ask about KONY and the issues that are being presented in the video. I explained to them that it seems that everyone is talking about the Kony 2012 video, which has received more than 80 million views since it was posted.  My 12 year old son explained to me that it is part of a campaign by a non-profit group Invisible Children to bring awareness to the rebel leader Joseph Kony who’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has been terrorizing Ugandans and people in the Congo, the Central African Republic and South Sudan since the 1980s. The narrator in the film states that “Kony stands accused of overseeing the systematic kidnapping of countless African children,” and, “brainwashing the boys into fighting for him, turning the girls into sex slaves and killing those who don’t comply.” My son was heartbroken knowing we actively work with two charities in the Congo, one for rape victims and the other for HIV positive students, helping them get access to medicine and schooling. So this was something we had already known about and he wanted to know why Kony had not been brought to justice.

I explained that there are people who are actively working to do this but given the political climate it is difficult. My issue was with the video and how it was portrayed.

The video, which features  Jason Russell (co-founder of Invisible Children) trying to find ways to explain Kony’s atrocities in an age-appropriate way to his very young son, which made it only more compelling and moving. It ends with a three point call to action: 1. “Sign the Pledge to Show Your Support;” 2. “Get the Bracelet and the Action Kit” (for $30); and 3. “Sign Up to Donate a Few Dollars a Month.”

The group is targeting young people and, from what I can see on Facebook and Twitter, it has raised support from youth around the world.  In some ways I’m happy, especially that my son is taking more of an interest in global politics. It’s amazing to see young people engaging with issues beyond their immediate lives and thinking about the plight of other youth thousands of miles away, my son I am sure remembers the terms I always say to him and my daughter “think globally and act locally”. Not to disregard global issues but be the change you can be in your own community and then expand, we need help here in the U.S. and other places as well.

But, as has been pointed out in numerous articles and videos, the group has many critics. As the Washington Post reported, some experts argue that the crimes of the LRA “have been exaggerated and the attention they are receiving is disproportionate,” while others say that Kony and his group are indeed despicable international criminals but that there are many more effective campaigns to stop him, including some that have been working on the ground for many years. Others argue that the video and the campaign represent a “white savior” approach to the problems of Africa as the New York Times reported.

I’m not going to repeat what’s in the countless number of articles about this film (you can find them by searching Google News for Kony), but after reading several of them, it’s pretty clear that the issue is not as simple as depicted in the film and that Invisible Children — while deservedly getting credit for raising awareness — is not necessarily the best place to donate if you want to help the children of Africa. If you search and look for the Ugandan blogger Rosebell Kagumire who has major problems with Russell’s video. “He plays so much that this war has been going on because millions of Americans are ignorant about it, but this is not entirely true.” She also says that “the situation has improved in Northern Uganda and that it’s about conflict recovery right now.” And, she reminds us, “this is another video where you see an outsider trying to be a hero rescuing African children … it does not end the problem.”

Lessons Learned 

This leads to the issue of critical thinking and media literacy.  As an Internet safety advocate, I’ve been saying for years that one of the most important skills that young people (and older ones too) need is the ability to think critically about what they see online. Whether it’s a pitch from a company, an invitation to meet up with an appealing stranger or even a news items or an opinion piece from a pundit like me, it’s important to look beyond the page — or in Kony’s case, the video. Use a search engine and whatever other tools you have to learn more about anything that you’re on the verge of buying into. Ask your online friends but also consult as many expert sources as you can.  There is often more than one side to a story and even well intentioned campaigns by decent people can have nuances worth exploring.

Parents, please use this as an opportunity to talk with your child. You can talk about anything ranging from how great it is to get involved in issues to how important it is to do your homework before signing an online (or printed) petition, donating money, showing up at a demonstration or supporting a politician who’s rhetoric may be initially appealing, there are so many politicians that garner support because they can speak well or get people riled up but have no substance.

Investigating charities

I have a friend who I grew up with in NYC and he works for a company that is one I ALWAYS check before donating moey to the cause.  Charity Navigator, which rates charities on a variety of criteria.  Charity Navigator gives Invisible Children a 3 (out of 4) Stars for as an overall rating but only 2 stars for Accountability and Transparency with a score of 45, compared to 70 for the American Red Cross and 59 for the American Heart Association, just to give two examples. 

I can say that, all in all, the story did its job by promoting the fact that there is injustice in the world. It is also a teaching moment for all children and their parents which will hopefully elicit conversations about all content and can teach students about empathy and world issues.