‘Kony 2012’ : Resistance in the Digital Age and the Importance of Critical Activism

“Where You Live Shouldn’t Determine Whether You Live” 

Invisible Children is an activist group using digital media to make visible the abduction, torture, and military conscription of children in Central Africa. This incredible film is about the potential of youth resistance, the need for political awareness, and the horror of war. As an example of new and emergent modes of resistance, it delivers some hope for the future.


Posted on YouTube only last week, the not-for-profit organization’s Kony 2012 video (directed and narrated by Jason Russell) has already triggered a far-reaching call for the capture of Joseph Kony, leader of the rebel militant group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

The LRA has operated in Africa for over two decades, committing atrocities in the Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and Uganda. The militant group, claiming to be fighting for a Christian theocracy focused on the Ten Commandments, continues to this day to “kill, torture, maim, rape, and abduct large numbers of civilians…government officials…international humanitarian convoys…and local NGO workers.” The LRA has been brutally built through the abduction of children who are then trained as guerillas, or, in the case of female abductees, forced into sexual slavery.

Kony 2012 suggests that these murders and violations of human rights can be fought through a cultural movement targeting the global public, celebrity humanitarians, and policymakers who can pressure the world’s governments to join in the search for Kony, whose capture will hopefully collapse the LRA.

The film also demonstrates the key role the Internet’s globalizing power has in contemporary resistance movements. To date, over 65 million people have viewed the short film, and Facebook and Twitter have been overflowing with additional posts that bring attention to the workings of the LRA. Because movements need broad social awareness to gain momentum, this new power to bring issues almost instantly into public light reflects the potential agency people hold to effect worldwide change.

Russell’s call to start a project concerned with “redefining the propaganda we see all day everyday that dictates who and what we pay attention to” suggests the impact digital media and social networking tools might have in revolutionizing thought. What if, in this increasingly privatized world, we usurped the digital culture that ceaselessly bombards us with messages of consumption? What if “chang[ing] the conversation of our culture” transformed it so that what we constantly encounter are not brand names, but resistance movements and causes? This could work not only to generate mass resistance to the ideologies and narratives that inhibit freedoms and human rights, but to build a global citizenry focused on finding solutions to important issues.

Although bringing attention to injustice is clearly important, we must meet the ways in which we are informed with a critical mind. Accepting and championing the description of an issue and its recommended solutions without reflection can be very detrimental. For example, critics of Kony 2012 argue Invisible Children is focused on unthoughtful militarized solutions that might generate destructive foreign policies in North America and that will lend power to corrupted armies in the Sudan and Uganda. More comments on the video’s impact assert that it echoes ideas of the white man as the saviour, while ignoring possible grassroots (and therefore anti-colonial) initiatives in these places affected by the LRA. If citizens remain critical when addressing and popularizing social justice issues like this one (acting then, as engaged public intellectuals), they can work towards unraveling the complexities inherent to human rights violations and make sure that they are calling for the best possible solutions.

While Kony 2012 importantly reflects the use of digital media in resistance movements and shows the invaluable work that informed citizens—especially youth—can do, its self-reflective narrative also reminds us to use our critical abilities to navigate the causes in which we take part. By never abandoning our critical mindsets, we can ensure that our activism remains committed to peace and social justice.

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