By Brian Conley
There has been quite a lot of controversy, discussion, and even outright arguing about the #Kony2012 campaign. Discussion has flared across the internet, and of course here at the South By Southwest festival, where the internet comes to party.
As a filmmaker, media trainer, and father, I have a conflicted amalgam of emotions about the campaign. Kony2012 is a beautiful piece of media, though I worry it exploits the founder's son in a way I wouldn't feel comfortable using my own daughter, and certainly it undermines the agency of Ugandans as implementers of change in their lives.
In 2005 I went to Iraq to assist average Iraqis to become visible to the international community, and particularly to Americans. That trip spawned Alive in Baghdad, a weekly news and documentary program, produced by Iraqi filmmakers, that ran for three years. It also provided the inspiration to launch Small World News Alive.in/ Network, resulting in enabling the creation and publication of hundreds of stories by dozens of citizens in conflict and post-conflict states, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, India, and Mexico.
I have seen the influence and impact of Invisible Children for years. It is undeniable that, as a piece of filmmaking, the #StopKony2012 video is slicker than anything my colleagues have ever produced. It has also been viewed many times more than our entire collection of videos. It is hard to measure the impact of training journalists and getting their content seen on the internet.
However, the videos produced by the Community Correspondents of the IndiaUnheard program I developed in 2010 have created dozens of impacts in just two years. This impact was created by enabling rural Indian communities to take an active role in telling their own stories. They were not voiceless, only unheard, and now they are seen for the first time by viewers all over India and the world.
The individuals behind Invisible Children have been working to stop Joseph Kony for eight years. YouTube has existed for 6 of those, and has been a massive driver of internet traffic for at least the last few. When will Invisible Children begin to help Ugandans to join the social media revolution, and tell their own stories?
It is undeniable that Invisible Children has affected great change through the establishment of schools and the creation of the LRA early warning system. However, neither schools nor radio antennas have put an end to the LRA. Apparently this is the impetus for Kony2012.
Now that Invisible Children has placed so much focus on arresting Kony, its worth asking, what happens if they succeed?
Invisible Children has been very successful at telling the stories of Ugandans affected by war. If success is measured by viewership, their model is far more successful than Small World News. Small World News focuses first on developing the capacity of local people to tell their own stories. Since Invisible Children has focused so much effort on telling stories *for* Ugandans, I am left wondering how Ugandans will advocate for themselves in the world of 2013 without Joseph Kony.
If Invisible Children can leverage the incredible infrastructure and networks they have established in Uganda, and around the world, there may yet be an opportunity. It remains to be seen whether the very real criticism of Ugandans and others can be paired with the very real success of Invisible Children. If the issues can be sorted out, I have hope that 2013 can be the year we all work harder to support the agency of Ugandans. Though it may take the international community to remove Kony, it will take more than hashtags to change the realities that enabled Kony to last this long.
Brian Conley is the founder of Small World News, which provides tools to to those living in under-represented communities to produce media and tell stories about their lives.