The controversy surrounding the viral video ‘Kony 2012’ continues even as its views on YouTube surpass 85.4 million as I write. The director, Jason Russell, had something of a mental breakdown a week ago, when he was arrested for about support and friendships. As reported by ABC.com late last week, “According to the National Institutes of Health, brief reactive psychosis is triggered by extreme stress, such as a traumatic event or the loss of a loved one. The symptoms, which include delusions, hallucinations and strange speech, can last up to a month, and the person may be completely unaware of them. … Alan Hilfer, chief psychologist at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City, said the backlash over Russell’s “Kony 2012″ campaign could have been traumatic enough to trigger the meltdown.”
How might disconcerting behavior of the video’s producer shift the discussion of the video and the appeal by ‘Invisible Children’ to raise awareness of Joseph Kony’s ‘Lord’s Resistance Army‘?
Jon Stewart’s ‘The Daily Show’ − ever the bellwether of the interests of the comfortably liberal − has had its fun with the power of viral videos to inspire young people. Perhaps the only things young people know about what’s important in the world are those things that are turned into ‘fun’ videos:
Though the conceit of the above skit is not far from the truth, the fact is, social media and viral videos often outrun ‘traditional media’ when vying for impact. As Jon Stewart pointed out in an earlier segment, reporters like Anderson Cooper, Diane Sawyer, and Brian Williams have been producing stories about Kony’s terrible exploits since the turn of the millennium (at the height of his powers in Uganda) but to no notable effect. Now a young father in California soups up the story for a YouTube video, and suddenly everyone wants to pony up $30 for a media kit to bring him down.
The real problem for those who challenge the video, is that Kony is already mostly down, and certainly in Uganda where the video focuses its attention. Indeed, reactions among Uganda’s leaders is perhaps the most heated:
Street reactions to last week’s video have been that of shock and anger. “Kony 2012 is a recycling of almost a decade old footage of film taken by film makers in northern Uganda in 2003″ said 70 year-old Tony Ojol, a respected elder in northern Uganda. I wonder why they are showing it to our people now.” Many Ugandans shared his sentiments. “We wonder why the videos of incidents that occurred over 10 years ago are being shown today to the world as if Kony is still killing Ugandans.” said Amos Apiliga a teacher in northern Uganda.
In the political realm, the wildfire popularity of the video has failed to hit its desired results. In some cases, the argument has been about the use of old footage not only to relay the Kony story but also to talk about incomprehension surrounding the use of funds raised to help those who fell victim to LRA’s atrocities. “Those who made the film used out- dated information to raise funds mostly from US students in colleges. They then used the money in their own ways” says Ugandan politician, James Kaggwa. (from TheAfricaReport.com, 16 March)
The tragedy of Russell’s breakdown for his family and friends we can not pretend to gauge or judge. But the tragedy for the cause is that it only raises more doubts about the viability of a campaign whose veracity has already been Russell will be out of the offices of ‘Invisible Children’ for at least a few months, and none of the other staff seem prepared to face the media about this recent turn of events. Though one of the complaints agains the charity is the comparatively small percentage of money that actually gets to the causes it claims to support, if Invisible Children collapses, whatever good has been done will be lost entirely.. Reuters is reporting that
The potency of viral video is not in question, but if we question the content and/or motivations of such videos we might see a a trending skepticism about such outreach. That the ‘Kony 2012’ video stirred pointed criticism almost as soon as it went viral seems both troubling and reassuring,. Nonprofits need to shoot straight with their facts and with their storytelling. Viral videos can bring instant fame to a cause, but − unlike in the celebrity world − there is such a good thing as bad publicity for those nonprofits and charities.