The Dangers of Bandwagon Activism: Kony 2012

Disclaimer: this post is not about taking sides for or against Invisible Children and their Kony 2012 campaign. This is about the dangers of bandwagon activism and making uninformed decisions when supporting causes.

EDIT: More links have been added to the bottom thanks to followers, critics, and supporters. They will continue to be added as I deem necessary.

Okay, so you might say I’m jumping on the bandwagon here by posting about Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 campaign. The answer is yes and no: yes in that I’m writing about a trend that is going on and relevant; no in that I like to think I’ve formed my own opinion instead of clicking share on every video link and concluding that my work is done with the click of the mouse and a donation to Invisible Children.

Now, I’ve said before that you can make a difference by doing things like signing a petition on, writing letters through Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, or lending money on Kiva. However, that shouldn’t be the end of the line–if anything, it’s the beginning of further actions. The first step to be a better hero is to actually learn more about the cause you’re following and promoting. Otherwise, you’re a parrot and don’t really know the consequences of one course of action or another. This in turn leads to mob mentality.

Some groups are calling for more military action, others are saying that violence only makes matters worse. Each side is accusing the other of being out of touch with reality and they need to do their research. In truth, there are plenty of facts–some distorted, some out of date, some classified–but ultimately, each side’s opinion is exactly that: an opinion. How you assemble your facts to form your own opinion is just as important as where you get them from. As long as you can look at yourself with confidence and say “I came to this conclusion myself without copying and pasting someone else’s idea”, then whatever opinion you have is yours. Stand for something or fall for everything: if you are following something without knowing why, you might as well be in a fundamentalist cult.

My friend Daniel shares some of the same sentiments I do:

Awareness is a good thing since most people had only heard of him from this video, but the ‘buy our shit to take him down’ thing was just obnoxious. And then there’s just always that distrust one has for an oddly imperialistic attitude about ‘those Africans who can’t save themselves.’ Research is a good thing. There are a dozen other charities to give to which are more directly connected, and the awareness campaign has done its job. But if you want to donate anywhere, somewhere else would probably be better.

Let me reiterate that I am neither siding for or against Invisible Children with this post. In actuality, I’ve been involved as a supporter for their cause since 2005 when their first film was released, but I’ve also been a proponent of the issue long before when I was living in the Philippines. I was one of the individuals in the Invisible Children club on UCLA’s campus. Over the years, I grew out of just supporting their approach alone and used it as a jumping-off point to look into the issue of child soldiers, sex slavery, human trafficking, and development. I was already an International Development major in college, and this film made me excited because it was the marriage of arts and activism (go look at my project influences tab at the top and see for yourself), and made it a lot easier to explain to people unfamiliar with this than I could in conversation.

I could say “Hey you saw Invisible Children too? Cool! That’s about one of the issues I’m working on, but not just in Uganda, but in places like Myanmar, Somalia, Liberia, and Ivory Coast!” It’s the “gateway drug” so to speak for getting people excited about human rights issues that I’m passionate about. But as Dan says, they aren’t the only way to get involved. But hey: I respect Invisible Children for raising awareness, and I respect people who decide for themselves to support them, and those who take action on the issue through other means.

A simple tool I use for everything is to look up an issue, a cause, an organization through my good friend Google. Some words I’ll add in the search terms include “scam”, “sucks”, and “hype”. You’ll have to sort through all of the search results on your own and consider the authority of each place that puts together its own facts and opinions. Just like when I look at a Yelp! review, a WordPress blog, or a YouTube comment, I always remind myself that oftentimes, these opinions are akin to graffiti: an emotional chord may be strung, and some insights can definitely be found, but it’s like digging through a pile of elephant crap and hoping you’ll pull out a diamond.

A lot of times, these people aren’t experts, but what you’re looking for is the reasoning process, and if it resonates with you, your intuition can determine the validity of whatever facts you use.

Good old Mark Twain said “It’s not about what we don’t know, but what we think we know that just ain’t right that’ll hurt us.” Yeah, I pulled that from Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth film, but it’s a useful insight. For that reason, the biggest point I’m trying to make in fighting bandwagon activism is to use your own intuition to make your own decisions about what’s crap and what’s fact, but remember it’s an opinion, your opinion. You can be 100% wrong, but it shouldn’t be because you’re parroting someone else, it should be because of how you reason. Beyond that, it’s not about black and white, but different perspectives that all come from the same facts.

Remember the words of Good Will Hunting: don’t be unoriginal, don’t take someone else’s opinions, work, or research and pass it off as your own to impress girls at a bar, and don’t think you’re smarter and better than someone else because you’re a good plagiarist.

So here’s some links I’ve used before coming to my own conclusion. Take a look at them, and I’ll leave you to decide what you make of what to do about Kony, how Invisible Children is making waves, and if you decide you’re for or against them. Me personally? I’m for Invisible Children. I’m critical, yes, but dissent is patriotic, and having a critical mind applies even more to the things you love. Don’t follow something blindly, and don’t dismiss something without putting in any critical thought behind it: there’s a difference between being a cynic and being ignorant.

CLARIFICATION: I support Invisible Children in the sense I appreciate their ability to bring awareness on issues such as this, but I don’t necessarily intend to send my money their way, nor will I encourage nor discourage anyone who decides for either course of action. I guess I wasn’t clear enough in my post, so I hope there’s no room for ambiguity or finger-pointing now.

Human Rights Watch

Mimi in Uganda

Think Progress

Huffington Post

Neil Gaiman’s tumblr

Finest Quality Crappy Blogging


Policymic (1)

Policymic (2)

Foreign Affairs

BBC If you read one article, make sure it’s this one.

Foreign Policy

BoingBoing African voices respond to the Kony hype. Must read.


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