When Peace Goes Viral: And the War it Sparks

This is the story of Kony 2012. I entered a hypnotic state the first time I saw the video and when it ended, I slapped my forehead and said: “Now that’s doing something to make the world a more peaceful place.”

The video was the fastest growing viral video of all time with more than 100 million views in less than a week. It has now been viewed nearly one billion times. If you haven’t seen it yet, click the link below:

The video was an experiment to see if making a war criminal famous could mobilize the world to stop him. It called on viewers to spread the word, sign a pledge, buy a Kony 2012 action kit, and donate to Invisible Children, an organization with the goal of bringing a “permanent end to LRA atrocities.”

  • Quick Background: The LRA stands for the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and has been waging an insurgency against the Ugandan government for 25 years. It is thought to be responsible for massacres, mass rapes, and creating a legion of child soldiers. Its leader, Joseph Kony, is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and has evaded capture for nearly three decades.

The video resulted in 3.7 million people pledging their support for an effort to arrest Joseph Kony.

But despite the runaway success, the campaign has been divisive from jump street – with some activists claiming the campaign “mobilized the world,” and others arguing it encouraged military intervention under the guise of humanitarianism.

A world mobilized or “slacktivism?”

Those who supported the campaign argued that Kony 2012 was essential global awareness to bring down a wanted war criminal. A top analyst from Human Rights Watch said in support of the video, “Arresting Kony and other senior LRA leaders would reaffirm that those who commit mass atrocities will face justice. It will also help end the scourge of one of the most brutal rebel groups in Africa.”[i]

The skeptics claimed the video oversimplified a complex situation and led many to “slacktivism,”[ii] which refers to the feel-good measures that support a social cause and have little practical effect other than to make a person feel self-satisfied. They maintained that by defining success so narrowly – the capture of Joseph Kony – gave people a false sense of hope that the issue of child soldiering could be easily solved. And this feeling of hope was the main reason the video had one million hits on its first day released.

Many Ugandans were also outraged by the film, which they thought looked like slick campaign ads of Kony – the person most responsible for their shattered lives.[iii] If you’re interested in watching Invisible Children’s response to the criticism, click here.[iv]

Kony 2012 Propoganda

Kony 2012 propaganda

So who’s right?

The peace that went viral sparked a war of controversy of inspiration and annoyance. Since my first viewing of the video a year ago, I’ve felt everything about it from inspirited to cynical to perplexed. But ultimately, I believe both pro- and con-Kony camps have a point.

It’s true that the film overstated the effects of capturing one man and overinflated the effects buying a Kony 2012 action kit could have in stopping a decades-old militant group. And enthusiasm for the Kony campaign appears to have waned. The recently released follow-on video called, “What Happened to Kony 2012?” has had around 56,000 views, which normally would be a smashing success, except when compared to the original that reached one-seventh of the Earth’s population. Click video below to watch.

On the other hand, the “viral-ness” of Kony 2012 proved that the world cares about peace and we have a voice. A click of the mouse garnered the attention of people like Oprah, President Obama, the U.S. Congress, Bono, George Clooney, and Angelina Jolie, just to name a handful.

It also mobilized hundreds of thousands of America’s youth – the so-called “Me Generation” – into action. It inspired them to donate their time and money to a higher calling of helping other children halfway around the world.

And possibly the most important thing that resulted from Kony 2012 was it framed the key question:

How can we inspire, unite, and mobilize the world, like the Kony 2012 video did, but with targeted actions that achieve a sustainable peaceful outcome?

I don’t have the answer to the question above…yet. The answer will come from our collective brainpower; and so, we must keep dialoguing, growing, and expanding.

Truth be told, I’ve feared being a slacktivist my whole life – although I didn’t have that groovy word in my vernacular until recently. My biggest fear in launching Shanti Pax has been the appearance of being nothing more than a no-good slacktivist. But I realized that we have to start somewhere and we have to try. Every effort starts small; and in the 21st century, all great things start with the click of a mouse.

So here we are, taking the best action we can at the moment: subscribing to peace, learning from peace campaigns, exchanging ideas, and seeking solutions. And we must feel good knowing that this dialogue has an effect and we have the power to effect change on a global scale. Because like Kony 2012 or not, it got the whole world talking.

With that said, I want to hear from you! What are your feelings on the Kony 2012 campaign? What side of the debate do you fall on? How would you answer the key question (extra credit for this one)? What types of actions make you feel empowered?

If you liked this post, please “like” it and share it with your friend. And subscribe to Shanti Pax to receive inspirational stories of peace with lessons you can apply to your life.

Remember, it’s the little changes we make in our daily life that brings greater peace to the whole.

[i] http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/03/09/how-catch-joseph-kony
[ii] “Slacktivism” is a portmanteau of the words “slacker” and “activism”
[iii] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/mar/14/kony-2012-screening-anger-northern-uganda
[iv] There was also other controversy regarding Invisible Children’s failure to produce its financial reports and the now famous public breakdown by the filmmaker, Jason Russell. To read a recent Guardian interview with Russell about the breakdown, click here.

7 replies
  1. morgan
    morgan says:

    How not to feel like a slacktavist when faced with the enormity of the world’s problems? How not to be utterly overwhelmed? My only hope is to begin it at home. Do my life. Trust in something far greater than myself to lead the way. Funny thing is… Kony likely believes that he, is righteously led by something far greater than himself. So too did the Boston Bombers. How do we reconcile such vastly different belief systems towards a universal “peace?” I could run myself ragged chasing my tail! I can only return to my meditation: Begin it at home.

    • Allyson
      Allyson says:

      Thank you, Morgan. That was beautifully said and said it all. That is the ultimate answer: peace begins at home. It begins with you and it begins with me. This is the key and central message of SP.

  2. Pete
    Pete says:

    General McChrystal always told us “you can’t kill/capture your way out of a counterinsurgency.” Thanks for the reminder, Allyson. You are a true counterinsurgency black belt! We members of the military can learn much from your message.

    • Allyson
      Allyson says:

      Fabulous comment! I was in Afghanistan when Gen McChrystal released his ground breaking counterinsurgency guidance, which shifted the main focus away from kicking down doors to protecting and connecting with the people. It changed the entire course of the effort – it was a big step in favor of non-violence solutions.

  3. Jen
    Jen says:

    I remember Kony because it reached people not normally touched by this. Many young people were moved to act because of it and I think this will have a lasting impact on them. Hopefully it has sparked their desire to help spread peace now and into the future.

    • Allyson
      Allyson says:

      You’re absolutely right. The more I think about the concept of “slacktivism” the more I find fault in it. In fact, I’m likely going to do a follow-on post on the subject. Stay tuned!!


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  1. […] Day is inconsequential reminds me of the concept of “slacktivism,” which I wrote about in my blog post about Kony 2012. Slacktivism is a pejorative term that describes "feel-good" acts in support of a social cause that […]

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