Kony, Social Media and Charities’ Responsibilities

By Sarah Dundas

Without jumping on the bandwagon – the recent ‘Kony 2012’ viral campaign by the American charity ‘Invisible Children’ has certainly given me food for thought.  Having been aware of the activities of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Northern Uganda for a number of years, it initially seemed decidedly positive to witness the evidence that charities are finally beginning to understand the importance of social media, and how it can be used to raise public awareness of issues.

Over the course of last week, however, a number of problems quickly emerged – and suddenly the ability of charities to appeal to the masses at the touch of a button seemed rather less positive.  I won’t get into the specific problems with this campaign, if only because they have been widely documented in recent days and everyone is entitled to their own opinion on what has shown itself to be an evocative subject.  But what we should perhaps learn from the campaign and its success (because despite any criticisms, it has done more for raising awareness in one week, than a whole host of other charity activity denouncing the LRA since its inception in the 1990s) is that social media is a tool to be used responsibly, and that raising awareness is not an end in itself.

Mareike Schomerus, of LSE, points out that the implication that clicking on an online link and forwarding something qualifies as activism is nothing if not a major concern.  Surely the goals of any major online campaign should be more concrete and tangible than simply raising awareness through positive activities or fundraising – even if, arguably, it is just as well that was not the case in this particular instance, given the questions surrounding the finances of ‘Invisible Children’.

Perhaps the final responsibility lies with the reader, the general public and the lay-person, learning through such social media campaigns, to undertake a certain amount of due diligence.  Or do charities, not-for-profits and other organisations using viral campaigns to such ends have a responsibility to ensure that they are telling the whole story? Surely the most important factor is results, and to know the long-tong term results of the ‘Kony 2012’ campaign we will have to wait and see.  In the meantime, let us know what you think.  Does the use of social media as a platform imply a certain number of duties? What do you think they are, and with whom do they lie?


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