Kony 2012 Movie and the Perils of Social Media 'Group Think'


I don’t really consider myself a hipster. I don’t wear tight jeans, I’m not from Brooklyn, and I don’t care for the music of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. At the same time, some hipster tendencies lurk within me. Specifically, I am wary of anything too popular. I don’t know why I have this suspicion of popular things; perhaps I suspect it’s appealing to the lowest common denominator or something and consider myself above that. Whatever the reason, this meant that as soon as the “KONY 2012” viral video started popping up all over my Facebook newsfeed, I had a bad feeling. And I was right to feel that way.

My bet is you’ve seen this video. But if you haven’t, here’s a brief primer: two days ago, the charity organization Invisible Children released a video on Vimeo about Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a powerful militant group in Uganda. Kony is infamous for his use of child soldiers, and in 2005 was indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. This video, like all videos by the Invisible Children organization, seeks to spread word of Kony’s crimes and help bring him to justice. The idea is to use the viral power of social media to accomplish a good deed beyond the powers of government bureaucracy, in true Arab Spring/Occupy movement style. So far, so good. The video has been plastered all over my Facebook newsfeed, nearly always accompanied with gushing all-caps testimonials like “WATCH THIS” and “THIS IS AMAZING, HELP STOP HIM.” But while the video’s motive is a worthy one, the way it goes about accomplishing that mission (and the reaction it’s sparked in the populace) speaks to larger dangers about groupthink.

“Groupthink” is a psychological term for a group of people’s tendency to agree on a consensus decision without considering alternative ideas. That seems to be exactly what happened early on with this “KONY 2012.” People saw their friends posting it and automatically assumed that it must be great and true. Or perhaps they decided to watch the video themselves, and as soon as they heard the inspiring Mumford and Sons score and the stories of former child soldiers, they went all-in without ever taking a second look at Invisible Children. Bad idea.

By most accounts, Invisible Children is kind of a shady charity organization. Their basic demand from the “KONY 2012” video is monetary support, but charity evaluations indicate that most of Invisible Children’s spending goes towards the creation of videos like this, not towards actual charity work or problem solving. Their issues are worth looking at in greater detail.

Let me enumerate once again that I actually support the basic cause that Invisible Children is fighting for. Joseph Kony is despicable and should have to face justice. As you may have gathered from my previous articles on Americans Elect and the Occupy movement, I really do believe that the next stage of social media and the Internet is providing a podium for people to speak out on important issues that the government may not always notice. That belief in the uniting power of the Internet is why I’m writing for PolicyMic in the first place.

But this video is pretty silly. It is stock full of clichés (“they gave what little they had,” “a bunch of littles made a big difference,” on and on in that vein) and even occasional lies (the video downplays the numerous American efforts over the years to capture or kill Kony). Worst of all, the video is built around the filmmaker’s conversation with his young son about Kony. I was already unsatisfied with the video’s poppy pump-up vibe, but the scene where the director asks his son about Kony and whether “we” should “stop” him nearly made me throw up. Distilling this issue into a child’s eye view is precisely the wrong step to take.

Nothing about this is easy. Invisible Children has the right idea, but they’re kind of stupid in the way they go about portraying that idea. People should support bringing Kony to justice, but they shouldn’t do it blindly. Nor do I think people should jump on the backlash bandwagon, because some of the things “Kony 2012” is saying are worthwhile. Simplifying is the wrong answer here. Enough with the groupthink.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons