The internet backlash is asking you to question Kony2012, and I’m asking you to question the facts and opinions stated by both sides of the story. A blog called Visible Children is claiming that Invisible Children, the group behind Kony2012, are not an accountable charity. Invisible Children claim their work is entirely transparent and for only the best intentions. A little research showed that many of the statistics cited by Visible Children are pretty massively erroneous- and a little insight shows the flaws on both sides.
Full disclosure: I watched the Kony 2012 campaign video last night and was utterly captivated by it. My reaction was emotional, I felt distraught and empowered and bought a kit from the website (the kit plus delivery cost about $45 AU). I didn’t question the facts of what I’d seen, much less the motivations of Invisible Children. I spoke to a few people about it and posted links on facebook, encouraging people to watch the video and donate. I suppose this was some what of an analytical failure- as a law student, this is what I am taught to do; unpack and dissect and contextualise everything. Perhaps I should have waited- or maybe going with my heart, rather than waiting for the backlash, was the right thing to do. I’m not really sure.
The negative response has been swift as the initial campaign was viral. The criticisms are as follows- most of these are sourced from Visible Children, a blog by a Canadian student that has gone swiftly viral and I’m going to attempt to unpack them all a little.
1. Where does your money go?
The Visible Children blog states that only 32% of the money donated last year to the Kony campaign was spent on charitable causes. The rest went to staff salaries, administrative costs, airline tickets and film making. Charity Navigator has a useful function with which you can assess how charities use their money, and states that they consider groups who use less than 30% of their donations for their programs as ‘not doing their job properly’. CEO’s of charities do get paid big bucks for what they do- for example, Gail McGovern of the American Red Cross earned $1,032,022 in the 2010-11 financial year. The company made $3,587,775,430- so this is a small percentage, but seems an enormous amount out of context. In contrast, Visible Children received just over ten million in donations. The three CEO’s combined salaries amount to a little under 3% of that amount at around $85,000 US each. Whether this is too much is debatable- compared to what is earned by the CEO’s of some other charities; it is paltry. It depends on how you, personally, feel about what people running NFP’s should earn. It is, after all, a full time job, and one that would involve many hours of overtime and a whole lot of emotional investment. There are people doing worse who earn much more.
What is important to note is that there may have been some erroneous reports on what percentage of charitable donations Invisible Children actually does spend on its programs. According to Charity Navigator, that figure is actually 80.2%- which is a good rating on the website’s standards.
There is also criticism regarding the amount spent on plane tickets and film making. Again, two sides to this. On the face of it, it does seem like self-congratulatory westerners enjoying their travels and covertly funding their film making enterprise. But this is how charities operate. They campaign for awareness and that awareness leads to donations. Invisible Children’s expenses for fundraising are 3.2% of their donations. Secondly, these guys are filmmakers. This is what they do, and how they raise donations and awareness. The film they made, irrespective of your feelings toward it, is well done, and this is why it’s gotten such enormous exposure so quickly. It’s an effective mode of getting a message across and one that the vast majority of charities use.
2. Who is your money supporting?
Military interventionism is a much debated issue. Much has been said about the fact that Kony has left Uganda. It is alleged that the 2009 bill that Invisible Children pushed through aided the government of Uganda to regain power, who have a questionable human rights record. The much-linked photo of the CEO’s of Invisible Children posing with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army has garnered loads of attention. They, like the Uganda military, have been accused of human rights violations. So- do Invisible Children fight one evil with the support of another? This is questionable. Jenkins has replied to the backlash, stating that political corruption is endemic in Africa and that irrespective of who you support, there are going to be problems.
Does this mean the global community should stand back and allow the atrocities committed by Kony to occur, just because they can’t find a suitable group to support? If the question is as bald as this, I would respond no. I could go on an ordinary vitriol about the human rights abuses alleged in powerful governments and say it’s standard fare- that doesn’t make it acceptable. The government of Uganda have a problematic human rights record (see the link above) but Kony has done much, much worse. Sometimes action involves a choice between the lessor of two evils.
As for the fact Kony has left Uganda, I find this discussion irrelevant. The ICJ want him for crimes against humanity. He and his group are responsible for, inter alia, tens of thousands of murders, kidnappings, rapes and mutilations. He should be brought to justice, irrespective of where he is and how many followers he has.
3. The smug white hipster people problem.
The video is trendy, the glasses are square, and the filmmaking is hipstamatically shot. There is a self congratulatory tone to it all, and it does reek of first world smugness.
But. This is how to reach and inform the youth. This is how virality works. In order to make a connection, you have to relate to your consumer. That’s basic marketing. The Kony campaign doesn’t lie about what its goal is: it’s awareness raising. If it takes that to make a young person sit through 30 minutes of a video, it’s done it’s job. Sure, there’s a whole bunch of meaningless rhetoric and back patting- but there’s also information, and it’s important.
The question I pose to those who are so vehemently opposing what Invisible Children are doing is: what have you done? What are you doing? It’s fine to dislike this charity, or the way it operates. It’s fine to prefer another fund. What bothers me is that the alternative to caring about this, or any other campaign, for some people, is apathy. I feel that doing nothing and living in peaceful ignorance or willful blindness, is far worse than selling t-shirts and being smug.
There’s a whole lot of swallowing going on here- brisk and brutal, both overly cynical and naive. I urge you to do your own research and inform your own opinion.