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Iman Baghai

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Kony 2012 Shows The Power Of Youth And Social Media

Posted: 03/12/2012 1:09 pm

Iman is a teen participant in the Junior State of America (JSA), a student-run political organization for high school students.

Romney secures nomination! Santorum does it again! Peyton to sign with Spanish Football team! These were the articles titles and topics I expected to see showcased all over the Internet on Tuesday when I opened up my computer. What I didn't expect was a barrage of red and blue pictures with KONY written all over them. The Kony video campaign that has consumed my Facebook and diverted my attention from trolling my "friends" to reading verbal (or written) clashes over whether or not to support the Kony movement (you can see what they looked like here). After several days of reading many arguments and observing some heated debates on this issue, I have come to a conclusion: I support the Kony movement for reasons most people wouldn't guess.

Over the past week, we have witnessed youth utilizing social media to bring forth an issue to the forefront of conversation. It gave us a fresh awakening to the realities of the charitable and advocacy world, and reminded us to be careful of everything we read and see. This all occurred while many apathetic citizens learned the atrocities that the LRA and Joseph Kony have committed over the past 30 years. And we have to thank Invisible Children and Jason Russell for sacrificing their reputations for this great learning experience.

Last year we observed the Middle East overthrow several dictatorships during the "Arab Spring" by employing social media to organize their methods, but the Kony movement is the first real social media movement to capture everyone's attention in the West (I mean, for once we are not talking about the new iPad). The video has been viewed over 67 million times on Youtube in five days -- not bad at all. Obviously, this movement is youth driven, as the majority of its viewers are aged 13-24 (see graphic here for a look at the distribution of Youtube views). Adolescents have dictated what we have been discussing in all news outlets this past week. Clearly, youth -- with the help of social media -- can grab everyone's attention. If united, teens have the potential to select the major issues facing our society.

If you happen to not be one of the 67 million individuals that took 30 minutes out of their day to see it, let me explain what happens. Jason Russell, the CEO and co-founder of Invisible Children, which produced the documentary, takes the viewer on an emotional journey in Uganda where he depicts the devastation that Kony has caused. It gives an impression that Kony is currently in Uganda with a kidnapped child army of over 30,000 and is causing havoc in Uganda. Yes, over the last 25 years many children have been abducted, but Kony was driven out of Uganda six years ago and his force is down to several hundred. However, the psychological wounds that Kony inflicted remain and he continues his reign of terror in the surrounding nations. According to a Security Council Report, the LRA displaced 49,99 people -- 17,000, in 2011 alone -- and killed over 2,400 civilians since 2008. The LRA has acted as recently as last month, in the Democratic Republic of Congo 12 attacks were reported during the first two weeks of February. Russell's misrepresentation of the situation has lead to outcry over the video, but the distortion of facts, ironically, is actually one of the best aspects of the documentary.

Although teenagers are constantly being told to be wary of everything they hear, often people fall into the trap of believing false information--especially if said information is in a really well put-together, emotional video. We are told to be wary of everything we hear and read and to double-check everything -- we are all susceptible to error. Russell's campaign is so well-created and does such a good job of evoking strong emotions that it leads many people to completely agree with it. But it didn't take long for his diluted message to be criticized. Media outlets have gone nuts over correcting his video. On the upside, a rude awakening has taken place. We have all learned a lesson. Even after a very arousing tale, a video being liked by all our Facebook friends, and Oprah tweeting about it, you still must check your facts. Even if it is produced by a "credible" organization, we must consider their motives, history, and financials. But the lessons don't stop there; sadly, Russell's campaign supplies future advocacy campaigns with a model of what not to do. It teaches such campaigns to not misconstrue facts, even if the campaign is successful, because bad facts will be brought up and the media will forever haunt you for it. It also teaches people who want to actually solve an issue to choose an organization that has good distribution of funds for the predicament.

Invisible Children, the organization that produced the film and is spearheading the crusade, has only around 30 percent of its contributions going to the ground in Uganda. This alarming statistic has surfaced and is one of the main arguments against the movement. Fortunately, there are a multitude of different ways that people can get involved or donate to a plethora of organizations that are working to help solve the problems effecting Africa. The gist of the whole Kony video movement situation is this: be careful and do research before you donate to a charity to ensure your money is being well-utilized -- don't donate blindly. Even in an era of donation through clicking a button, you can guarantee that your contribution is being well employed by going to Charity Navigator, an organization that fairly rates and critiques non-profits, before making your choice. I naively believed that the collapse of the infamous Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea and founder of the Central Asia Institute, would have taught other organizations to ensure that their money is well-applied. Sadly, it appears that it takes the media's slamming of Invisible Children to really hit home the necessity of ensuring all organizations do a good job of doing the tasks that they promise to accomplish.

When all the dust settles, Russell and Invisible Children will have achieved their goal of educating the masses about the mayhem Kony inflicted. Honestly, we can all create a long list of people that didn't know who Kony was before the video came out. Additionally, they have sacrificed their reputations in order to act as a model for future advocates on what to do and what not to do. As a result of their movement, we will be wary of how and where we invest our precious donations. And most importantly, they have solidified the power that youth and social media hold in the 21st century. Thanks to the Kony movement we've learned a lot about an evil person, his organization, and how to run a movement.