What might millions of people accomplish together as a networked community that they could never accomplish alone?

{ Please see updates, at bottom of post. }
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Late last night, my teenage son walked up to my desk, leaned over my keyboard, typed in an unfamiliar URL, and showed me KONY 2012. He had been reading the site and had watched the project’s new video documentary — and he was stunned… and moved…. and said it was going viral. KONY 2012 was all over his Facebook feed. But it wasn’t on mine. So I checked out the site, and watched the video (below). You should too.

Joseph Kony

KONY is Joseph Kony — the notorious leader of a Ugandan guerilla group called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which, for decades, abducted tens of thousands of children, and then forced them to join the Army’s murderous ranks. The goal of KONY 2012 is to arrest Kony by the end of this year, bring him to justice, disarm the LRA, and bring the child soldiers home.

It’s an ambitious and courageous initiative, an eminently worthy cause, a well-produced documentary, and a breathtakingly innovative use of the social media platforms we all use every day to do far less useful things.

This project is also an inspiring answer to a question I posed on opening day here at Society Matters: What might millions of people be able to accomplish together as a networked community that they could never accomplish alone? 

According to KONY 2012, the answer is: We can give hope to tens of thousands of children and their families. We can change the course of human events. And we can awaken people to the fact that human history is not a drama we’re passively watching from afar, but one that we’re living. Each of us has a place on the stage of history, and we’ve all been blessed with speaking parts. 

According to National Geographic, the answer is: Enter a photo contest! Follow us on Twitter! Like us on FacebookSend us pictures of your little kittyOur Society continues to use the internet primarily as another media pipeline — one through which we can send them a few snapshots and win prizes, and they can pump us the latest batch of rhino photos and TV shows about sex addiction — all brought to you by [insert name of advertiser here].

Sigh.

It’s as though someone gave you a new iPhone, and you used it as a coaster for a cold drink: Sure, the phone would protect your furniture from water stains, but the technology is capable of doing so much more.

Please watch this video. It might give you a sense of hope. It might even move you to action. And if all goes well in 2012 — and Joseph Kony’s reign of terror is finally brought to an end — then this project might also prove a very simple truth: We can often accomplish more together than we’ll ever accomplish alone.

cc (via email): John Fahey, Chairman & CEO of the National Geographic Society

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UPDATE, 7 March 2012 @ 11:30pm
There’s been an enormous amount of coverage on the web today re: KONY 2012. Much of it shines a bright light on Invisible Children, the group leading this project. Critics have raised questions (and not for the first time) about its finances, its journalistic integrity, its ties to the military in Uganda, and more. For an excellent summary, please read “Joseph Kony is not in Uganda (and other complicated things),” by Michael Wilkerson. … That said, I’m still impressed by the creativity of the campaign, and what looks like an inordinately successful effort (so far) to mobilize people and raise money for a good cause — even though it’s a cause that might have made more sense 10 years ago than it does today.

UPDATE, 8 March 2012 @ 8:30am
Invisible Children responds to its critics here.
The Washington Post has a summary of criticism & the response here.

UPDATE: 8 March 2012 @ 1:37pm
From The Telegraph (UK): “Joseph Kony 2012: growing outrage in Uganda over film

UPDATE: 18 March 2012 @ 11:25pm
This piece by Nick Kristof in The New York Times is worth reading too: Viral Video, Vicious Warlord. Among his observations:

Nick Kristof

… When a warlord continues to kill and torture across a swath of Congo and Central African Republic, that’s not a white man’s burden. It’s a human burden. …

It’s true that indignation among Americans won’t by itself stop Kony. Yet I’ve learned over the years that public attention can create an environment in which solutions are more likely.

Public outrage over Serbian atrocities in the Balkans eventually led the Clinton administration to protect Kosovo and hammer out the Dayton peace accord. The Sudan civil war killed millions over half-a-century on and off, until public outrage — largely among evangelical Christians — led President George W. Bush to push successfully for a peace agreement in 2005.

I asked Anthony Lake, now the executive director of Unicef who was President Clinton’s national security adviser during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, whether a viral video about Rwanda would have made a difference then. “The answer is yes,” he said. He suggested that this kind of public attention would also have helped save more lives in Darfur and in Congo’s warring east. … 

The bottom line is: A young man devotes nine years of his life to fight murder, rape and mutilation, he produces a video that goes viral and galvanizes mostly young Americans to show concern for needy villagers abroad — and he’s vilified? …

 

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