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An example of how social media slactivism lacks proper context

Mar 8th, 2012 | By | Category: Featured Article, Opinion

VISIBLE ACTION: Invisible Children members pose with the Sudan People's Liberation Army.

JOSHEPH KONY – It’s a name which has swept the web in the last few days, a war criminal gone viral.

In three days, the 30 minute film (below) produced by activist group Invisible Children has garnered ten million views, and has been shared on prolifically on Facebook and Twitter.

The film outlines, the plight of Ugandan children recruited into Joseph Kony’s army.  In the film, Jason Russell tells his son about Kony for the first time, using the kind of simplistic language necessary to explain such a horrific concept to a child.

The speed at which ideas can now be spread creates the problem of a lack of context. Facebook and YouTube turn us into the wide eyed child seen in the video.  We share our outrage without any understanding of the history of the situation.  We are not told, for example, that attempts to stop Kony have resulted in the slaughter of many of his child warriors.

The film is powerful emotive, and heavy handed.  The problem is that many of the people who will see it won’t dig any deeper, and Invisible Children advocate some risky solutions to bring Kony down.

The immediacy of the horror on our screens affects us so strongly that we want to take action, but quite often this action doesn’t amount to anything but an outpouring on social media.

It may be wonderful that it takes us only seconds to gain access to the latest ideas, but when our activism may have real world consequences for thousands Facebook and Twitter are not the best medium to assess the geo-political consequences.  Our only options here are to like the post, or post a negative comment.  Either way we contribute to the hype.

Political science and sociology student Grant Oyston has become the face of the sceptics.  His blog Visible Children  points out that the Invisible Children advocate direct military action by the Ugandan Army, who have been accused of rape and looting.

Facebook activism has become known as slactivism by those who see it as nothing more than an easy and meaningless token effort.  We need to look at how we can raise awareness not just of the issues themselves, but of the history and consequences surrounding them so that we can make an informed decision.

There is plenty of work which needs to be done in our communities, as well as worthy causes to advocate for in our foreign aid policy, but we need to work at these causes in a consistent and informed way.

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is A Journalism Student at Whitireia in Wellington, New Zealand. His specialty areas are digital culture, politics and cyber-crime.
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