As I walked to class last week I noticed a banner in Plant Hall announcing that there would be an Invisible Children presentation on campus. It was to be held in Reeves Theater on Tuesday, Sept. 18. I had to take a second glance to make sure I was reading this correctly. Invisible Children? Kony 2012? Didn’t that trend fizzle out last spring? To some, my use of the word “trend” to describe a charity that aims to end the use of child soldiers in Africa may seem insensitive and cruel. However, I firmly believe that is exactly what Invisible Children and other powerful charities have become: nothing but a trend endorsed by celebrities and followed by young Americans.
The Invisible Children bandwagon is a prime example of “slacktivism” which Jesse Davis, a writer at Evidence Based Marketing defines as, “the act of passively supporting causes in order to tap into the satisfaction that accompanies philanthropy, without having to do any heavy-lifting (or heavy spending).” Slacktivism is becoming increasingly popular via social media where a user simply has to click a “Like” button to show their support towards a cause. So much hype was built up for the Cover the Night event after the Kony 2012 video received millions of views on Facebook. However, when the day came to actually graffiti their towns, it came to no surprise that the majority of these slacktivists weren’t able to make it past their Facebook or Twitter page.
It was hard for me to believe the fact that Invisible Children was still touring and putting on presentations after all the criticism the organization had received in the past few months. The Kony 2012 video made the idea of a youth revolution so appealing that you would think on the morning of the Cover the Night project you’d find Joseph Kony’s face everywhere, even on your bedroom ceiling. Instead, the Cover the Night event fell short by the time the date was reached in April, leaving a few posters dangling on a telephone pole here and there. Having the co-founder of Invisible Children walking around naked while talking to himself in San Diego last spring didn’t do much good to the Kony 2012 image either.
In order to see if I was the only one surprised by this organization still touring schools, I asked students around campus. A lot of people had heard of Invisible Children and Kony 2012, but didn’t know too much about it in detail. When asked whether or not a presentation on campus was appropriate after it had received so much backlash, sophomore biochemistry major Courtney Ragan answered, “I think it’s a good cause and I don’t think one person’s actions (Jason Russell) should reflect an entire organization.” As cynical as I am about the organization, I do agree with this. The original purpose of Invisible Children was pure and rooted in a desire to help others. This noble purpose should not be tarnished by one man when the charity was established by so many other people. Laura Yarrow, a UT freshmen studying biology, was very familiar with the Invisible Children and Kony 2012 organization after having watched the original Invisible Children documentary during an assembly in high school. However, she expressed mixed emotions about it. “When I watched the first film I thought it was heartbreaking, but as I got older and looked more into it, I realized that all of the films have lacked a lot of key facts needed to understand more about the war in Uganda. To be honest, I found the Kony 2012 film to be a load of propaganda bullsh*t. I think the organization has good intentions, but after the Cover the Night failure, Jason Russell’s erratic behavior and criticism revolving around their use of funds, Invisible Children should probably lay low a bit and take time to reevaluate the program before they continue to tour.”
Indeed, Invisible Children should hold off on their tours and make some changes to the program first. For starters, the films need to be more factually based. In the Kony 2012 film, co-founder Jason Russell is able to explain the entire conflict in Africa to his toddler son in only a few sentences. He oversimplifies the conflict to make viewers believe that as long as they take down one man, Joseph Kony, all the children will be safe. The easier it seems to get rid of a problem, the more likely viewers are to dole out donations. By not giving them all the information needed to make a clear judgement, you are using unethical marketing strategies. Secondly, Invisible Children has received a lot of criticism for using the majority of their money to create movies instead of direct donations to Africa. If the organization was to put films into a short hiatus and donate all the money to victim rehabilitation and education in Africa, this could help rebuild their image drastically. They should also strongly think about what audience they want to target and how to execute future protests.