Emotional campaigns and propaganda – StopKony and bulfighters

Shortly after I posted the StopKony video, when I looked further into it I started to feel a little queasy…as documented in that post and on the Guardian and many other places including this infographic, Ugandans as well as people who work on the ground in Northern Uganda have questioned the approach from Invisible Children, the top-down daddy-knows-best Imperialist subtext, the external militaristic solution, the fact that things have changed in the area and even within the LRA.

The message coming out from Uganda is that it’s more about dealing with the after effects of war, and more pressing concerns such as high fuel prices and tension with DRC over oil discoveries, strikes, Walk to Work opposition to Museveni’s several decade rule, the anti-homsexuality bill including originally a death sentence and this scary new Nodding Disease which I tweeted about a while back.

So those that shared the video or watched it I think should also watch this response video by Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire…I think it shows the shortcomings of the campaign, and why it’s probably not helpful to those in Uganda, and shows a situation from 5-6 years ago which isn’t the case now. Also as she points out those people terrorised or lost loved ones to the LRA, still living in fear, maybe the last name they want to see splashed everywhere on fashionware is Kony’s? I must say even I winced at some of the tshirts such as I <3 The LRA.

Now in DRC, Congo and CAR Kony’s gang is still terrorising people, and that seems to be the case, but not on a scale suggested by that video, and as Rosie points out, an external solution won’t help, especially with the complexity of the frictions in the area. The StopKony campaign seems to be manipulatively aimed at children and teenagers, and presented in such a falsely upbeat fashion about a complex issue and misleading statistics. I bought into it at first, I ‘believed’, but at the end it seems more a fund-raising campaign for the filmmakers and also a push for the US dominance in the area (and even maybe supporting Museveni’s push for resources in nearby countries – already the UDPF has been accused by other governments stealing diamonds and other resources when supposedly looking for Kony – and as I’ve written here before, Uganda’s human rights record especially in LBGT issues is terrible). I’ve also read in several blogs there is also a call for a South African style Justice and Reconcilliation in Uganda re: Joseph Kony, so people can just get their children back and move on, which doesn’t fit the IC revenge/justice script either, but might be more realistic – civil wars are settled usually at the negotiating table rather than the court.

And most recently this social media manipulation is shown in the bullfighter Álvaro Múnera Builes seemingly giving up in the ring and devoting his life to animal rights post doing the rounds on Facebook – it turns out the picture isn’t what it seems, it most likely isn’t Álvaro, he was paralysed in a fight before he became an anti-bullfighting activist, and some doubt that even the ‘quote’ comes from him. But people blindly shared it as ‘fact’ on Facebook and blogs across the internet.

This shows a trend I’m seeing on social media – emotive campaigns that actually twist the truth and show a extremely partisan approach in the form of documentary fact. These campaigns use the fact that those critical filters people use for other media I suspect haven’t been built up yet for social media. When something like these emotive appeals appears in newspapers like The Sun or Daily Mail, or for TV or radio broadcasts, of course people understand the role of bias, spin and even factual innacuracy within that – although those organisations have to at least fact-check, something these ‘campaigns’ do not have to do.

Online, it seems people seem happy to click share without doing the most cursory Google or Wiki search – then get all emotional and defensive when challenged about it (I was called out as ‘buying into propaganda’ as if I was some evil Kony-supporting WTC-style truther for doing so, strange because the StopKony campaign is definitely using propaganda techniques and even possibly slightly cult-like in it’s methods). We see this with false death notices and memes, but in a way those don’t matter or are quickly corrected, whereas this kind of factually dodgy or misleading, or simplistic approach can lead to political decisions and pressure forming and unintended consequences that cause a lot more damage. Think of the Weapons of Mass Destruction for instance – just imagine how THAT would have spread and misinformation could have leaked through the wires if Facebook was big then?

So the moral of this blog is always question, always google, always check. And think about the wider issues – there are hardly ever only two sides to anything (if it is being presented as such you’re probably being conned or forced into a rhetorical corner), simple solutions usually lead to a complex impact and unintended consequences. Everyone has an agenda, good or bad – but sometimes they are knowingly or unknowingly playing into imperialistic concerns. And simplistic good vs evil belongs in Star Wars only.

My Little Kony

Love this video from Invisible Children, it spells out what I’ve been saying for ages is the new politic of online connection – which shines light on the strange apathy of looking the other way. Although I have a few minor reservations about this sort of high profile ‘RED’ style campaigning (transparency and cost of infrastructure are always an issue) I think the message is a good one, and a crazy idea of making Joseph Kony famous might just work (although I hope it doesn’t backfire. It does contain some risk that people won’t get the message that this man kidnaps children and forces them to be soldiers in his own power game. They might just think it’s the latest viral for some computer game or something?)

The role of religion in his Lord’s Resistance Army is interesting too in a country that yet again is debating laws against homosexuality in big part because of American evangelist pressure, ironic since those that oppose homosexuality as in St Petersburg are claiming that all this gay stuff is a Western import and political interference – obviously the American preachers are a different sort of interference then? I see Invisible Children are sidestepping those particular hot potatoes…then again single issue politics was ever thus, although in my mind I can’t see how your can separate centuries of western-funded religious indoctrination and military and commercial interference in Africa with the likes of Joseph Kony and war in Africa – a little simplistic, then again the mediascape has gone from 30 second soundbites to 140 bytes so it’s never going to be a bigger conversation than talking to a 5 year old, I guess.

A lot of intentional and unintentional ignorance happens around Africa and a lot of the less reported parts of the world, or as in the case of the possibility of making being gay a capital offence only one story gets through. It would be great if these stories were connected, and LGBT celebrities and activists showed Uganda and Africa their mettle by supporting campaigns like this, as a message of love in the face of hate. You can only win the day through shows of unity, Nelson Mandela and the fall of apartheid-era discrimination laws in South Africa shows that. There is far too much of a ghetto mentality in LGBT community today and I’m really fed up with the closed minded thinking therein – when did ‘If I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution’ just become ‘I want to dance, fuck the revolution’?

EDIT: the more I learn about Invisible Children Inc and the whole STOPKONY campaign the more my minor reservations become major ones – around the simplistic nature of the campaign and the proposed response, the financial details and lack of transparency. Check out this post by Wil Wheaton for more info. I think what worries me more – if true – is the accusations they are helping fund the Ugandan army – posing with weapons is NOT a good look for a charity and looks like schoolboy badboy posing. Hmm. More criticism of StopKony2012 on Visible Children.

Although IC has done a great job of bringing Kony to light beyond the other books and documentaries that seemed to fall into a niche ‘who cares?’ hole, making people care is a great move…but I think as this blog article points out the reality of Africa and the geopolitic is far from simple – and if it encourages the US to become more militarily involved in the area it could create a far bigger problem for all including those ‘invisible’ children. And here’s a far more balanced – and experienced – take on the issue. It seems probably the truth is somewhere in the middle – you need the ‘candy’ to get people to listen, you need the ‘dancing’ or the pop concert or the fancy film – but the danger is that it can become a sort of Coca Cola Activism, Let Save The World With Ringpulls, Sing Songs, Expensive Gadgets And Throw Money At It sort of affair.