Friday, March 09, 2012

KONY 2012: the backlash

oh and as for the invisible children backlash, this kind of argument really annoys me:
But the damage of Kony 2012 is probably already done, and that damage is real. First, it's likely to actually decrease the amount of help that goes into Central Africa. The video is a joy to watch and spread because it tells Americans that by simply watching a video, and at most maybe buying a $30 "action kit" of wristbands and stickers, they have done all that's necessary; they are absolved of responsibility. How much money has Invisible Children soaked up that could have gone to actually effective campaigns or more experienced NGOs? How many people might have put their energy, which after all is finite, toward something more constructive? As Amanda Taub and Kate Cronin-Furman write, "Campaigns that focus on bracelets and social media absorb resources that could go toward more effective advocacy, and take up rhetorical space that could be used to develop more effective advocacy."
does anyone actually believe that the people buying bracelets would have otherwise donated thirty bucks to alleviate central africa's problems in some more economically constructive way? it seems obvious to me that when something like KONY 2012 goes viral and the people who jump on board are not the folks who were otherwise looking around for a charity to donate to. instead they saw a video about a tragedy (oversimplified or not, a real tragedy) and then felt moved to throw some cash that they otherwise would have kept in their pocket. even if we assume that some obscene percentage of that money gets eaten up by bloated administrative costs or marketing, the cause still ends up getting money that it wouldn't have otherwise gotten. and by publicizing the crimes of the LRA, it increases the fundraising abilities of other charities who are on the same beat.

i agree that "awareness building" campaigns have their limits and can eventually become truly wasteful when awareness building seems to become an end-in-itself and diverts money that could be used for the actual cause. (e.g. susan g. komen for the cure. i mean, who doesn't already know about breast cancer? in that case, every "awareness building" dollar really is a dollar that isn't going to research) but joseph kony and the lord's resistance army really is an issue that needs awareness raising because most people outside of central and east africa haven't heard about it.

(i won't get into the "neo-colonialism" argument right now, except to say that the only alternative ever presented is to go back to treating african concerns as unimportant, which strikes me as just as much neo-colonial attitude)