Kony 2012: When is a story too simple?

by Shannon Arvizu on April 2, 2012

in Framer Reads the News


By now,  many of you are familiar with the Kony 2012 campaign. As the story of war children in Uganda has gone viral, we at FrameWorks are thinking about the effectiveness of the narrative used in the 30-minute documentary.

There are three take-aways from this project that are useful for us to consider as storytellers of social change.

1. Fight Against Evil: The campaign video has a clear “fight against evil” narrative that resonates with millions of people and is simple enough that even a four-year-old understands. But how simple is too simple?

At FrameWorks, we believe our job is to translate the advocate story in a way that doesn’t “dumb down” the narrative. We want to tell a story in way that strengthens and expands public understanding of the issue. Some commentators have mentioned that this story, in an attempt to be as simple as possible, provides misinformation and does not accurately account for historical and current events.

How could this story have been told better? The Kony 2012 campaigners recently announced that they will make a Kony 2012 sequel to their movie that tells a more complete and accurate story. If this story is to be effective, the campaigners need to consider how additional details translate into informed change on this issue.

2. Collective Action: The video encourages citizens, and particularly young people, to bring attention to child soldiers in Uganda by tweeting the issue to their social networks and to “gatekeepers” who influence public opinion. In terms of diffusion of the story, the Kony 2012 campaign is a major success, as the video has over 85,000,000 views on YouTube.

But…will eyeballs turn into social change? The strategy for social change proposed is to send money to the foundation, Invisible Children. Online charitable donations is a growing trend for many non-profits, with a 16% increase in online giving in the last year alone. According to Invisible Children, this money will go towards rehabilitation programs for child soldiers and the production of more films on the issue.

The other solution proposed is to keep American army “advisors” in Uganda to train the local military to find Joseph Kony. A commentator on the Huff Po says this is a greatly simplified strategy for action and could potentially cause more harm than good.

But what about the other non-profits who work on this issue? What do they have to propose as solutions?

We know that there are lots of non-profit organizations working on the issue of war violence and children. Our organization has worked with some of them in regards to international child advocacy and early childhood development. Invisible Children can gain greater legitimacy for their aims by building a coalition of organizations that share and promote similar solutions.

3. Messengers and Legitimacy: Looks like the organization, Invisible Children, has some financial/transparency issues and the messenger, Jason Russell, has some psychological issues. Both are currently undermining the legitimacy of the message and the mission.

Can the Kony 2012 campaign overcome these legitimacy blips in the long term and create meaningful change for child soldiers in Uganda? We are watching…

 

 

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