Last week I was one of the 79,927,048 people to watch the Kony 2012 video on YouTube. It was a moving video, and I loved the sense of urgency that it created by asking viewers to do specific things by specific dates (though why they decided to make 4/20 their day of action is beyond me).
In the aftermath of Kony’s viral phenomenon, many alternative perspectives on the video have emerged. The common themes in these counterpoints revolve around the non-profit’s poor accountability rating by Charity Navigator, allegations of neo-colonialism, manipulation of the facts on the ground, and the overall efficacy of the suggested courses of action.
To put it another way, many commentators felt that the video was a highly effective piece of propaganda that led well-intentioned people to rally behind a charity and a cause that they knew pretty much nothing about.
Of course, you could argue that simply getting young Americans to care about anything is a step in the right direction. Prior to Kony 2012, I’d bet that the majority of Americans couldn’t tell you anything about Uganda or the Democratic Republic of Congo, so at least these places and some of the troubles they’ve had are on the map, right? The general theme of the video – that the people of the world can rise up en masse to bring war criminals to justice – could certainly be a powerful use of the Internet and social media.
The flip side, however, is that any medium that can mobilize people to do great good can also mobilize them to do evil. The mass genocides in Uganda’s neighbor – Rwanda – were spurred on by a Rwandan radio station, and the leaders of this media outlet were subsequently convicted of crimes against humanity by an International Criminal Tribunal.
And, in fact, the very persuasive techniques used in the Kony video – social proof (all of your friends are supporting the cause), obedience to authority (Oprah supports us!), escalation of commitment (just share this video), have been proven to be equally effective at making people abandon their moral compass and commit reprehensible acts that they themselves would have never predicted they would have committed.
We are in the very early days of social media, and we’ve already seen countless examples of effective propaganda campaigns being waged on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. You may agree with the anti-SOPA blackout, the Susan Komen boycott, and of course Kony 2012, but it’s troubling to me that people can see one effective piece of media and help spread a viewpoint about which they have done no research or heard any alternative viewpoints. Let’s spread some good – but with our eyes wide open.
– David Rodnitzky, CEO