Friday, 9 March 2012

Charity for the Facebook Generation

In this age of information, I am regularly appalled by the amount of misinformation out there, and the number of people who repeat what they've heard without verifying their facts. Sharing links is one thing - you're just pointing people to an author's opinion. Taking on that opinion yourself and spreading it without even a cursory look at the evidence is inexcusable, and foolish.

You probably already know that a campaign video made by charity Invisible Children has taken the world by storm. The campaign's aim is to raise awareness about Joseph Kony, the leader of a guerrilla army in central Africa responsible for the abductions of up to 66,000 children and the deaths and displacement of many thousands more, and to put pressure on governments (who apparently think the matter is irrelevant) to do something about it. If you haven't seen the video, you can find it here. You'll need half an hour, and tissues.

Not long after the video started trending on the internet, the backlash began - a couple of bloggers pointed out what they felt were flaws in Invisible Children's methods, and an apparent lack of transparency surrounding their finances. You can read all that here, here and here, if you want. Accusations have spread about as fast as the video itself did, and include spending too much on awareness and media and not enough on actually helping people, oversimplifying a complex issue, exaggeration and manipulation of facts, foolish tactics, funding Ugandan militia who are known for their own humanitarian crimes, perpetuating the 'white man's burden' and saviour complex, promoting 'slacktivism' (the belief you might be able to change things by sharing stuff on the internet), over-sentimentality, propagandism, and being 'a scam' - an accusation made without any indication how so. Invisible Children posted this this morning to rebut all the claims made about them - a must-read for anyone who is not sure what to think. (This brief interview with the man behind the film is worth a read too.) For the record, they absolutely deny that they fund the Ugandan military, and their financial records are online for all to see.

But I'm afraid the damage has already been done. Most people see too much in black and white, and will have dismissed the campaign. It makes me furious how some cynics will condemn something when they find it isn't perfect, without recognising the value it has even in its flawed state.

Sure, if you don't want Invisible Children to have your money, don't donate. But don't dismiss the campaign to make people more aware, or to pressurise governments to act. Those are the key things here and they're entirely valid.

So called 'slacktivism' is better than ignorance. Simplification is unavoidable in a short campaign video, and in any focused campaign. No-one's claiming this guy is the only evil in the world or that getting rid of him will solve all of the region's problems - again, he's just the focus of one little campaign, and it's a step in the right direction. The white saviour thing is something we should think about but not a valid criticism. Anyone accusing the filmmakers of making an uncomfortably moving and provocative piece of propaganda has failed to realise that's just the way the world rolls these days. And on some rare occasions, sadly, military intervention is a necessary evil.

Invisible Children, as well as building schools and managing welfare and economic projects, puts more importance on producing media and spreading awareness than most charities. So what? Who says there's only one way to run a charity? I give monthly to a major global charity, but I don't keep up with what campaigns they're working on or where my money's going. Isn't that wrong? Aren't I just giving to satisfy myself, sitting comfortably at my computer, rather than because I see an injustice or feel a burden for someone? If the charity I support, or any other, made moving and rousing films about everything they got up to, less money would go to their causes - but I might be prompted to give more, and more might be prompted to give. It's different, but it's not wrong. Kony 2012 is charity for the facebook generation - it's visible, it's colourful, it's focused, it's exciting, it's dramatic. It's waking whole generations of kids up to the fact that Justin Bieber/being thin/Twilight/Louis Vuitton is not the only thing that matters. I never saw Christian Aid, Oxfam, Greenpeace or Cancer Research do that.

Awareness is so important. I know how it is - everyone's so busy worrying about money and school and work and chores and family that there's no time to think about stuff that doesn't affect them. And there's so much stuff going on in the world we'd never catch up with all of it, anyway. But it's dangerous to assume that foreign issues will never affect us. There's a hell of a lot going on out there - I've been blown away by some of the things that have shown up on my radar since I've had enough spare time and energy to start paying attention. My whole world view has changed (it's amazing how narrow the lens of the mainstream media is, when you look outside it). We must always strive to be more aware of what is happening in the world.

This guy has to be stopped. However much research you do into the situation in central Africa, however complex things are over there, you won't find a reason to justify what he's doing nor to allow it. And if we don't act, that's exactly what we're doing - permitting it. Yes, you and I are extremely limited in what we can do, but I'm not letting the government who represents me - who can do something - turn a blind eye just because it doesn't affect our country. If enough of us put the pressure on, maybe we can change things. Maybe we can't. But shouldn't we try?

You can find more info on Kony 2012 and what you can do here, and a UK e-petition here. There are also many, many more charities supporting human rights, peace and development in Africa.

1 comment:

Robert Brenchley said...

It's getting a lot of pubicity for the situation with the LRA and other militias in Central Africa. There's more to it than arresting one man; these movements are funded by illegal mining, for instance, and something has to be done about that. But at least people are learning more, and that can't be a bad thing.

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