Blog Post

#Kony2012: Using Twitter to Challenge Simplistic Narratives


By now, you may have heard about #Kony2012. An organization called Invisible Children created a video that has been viewed over 50 million times. The video describes the attempt to arrest the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Joseph Kony, who is responsible, according to the video, for forcing 30,000 children to take part in his army, where they then took part in rape, murder, and the like. The video is made artfully, and gathers much of its strength from its simple rhetorical device: a tale told from father to son about the evil-doings in the world.  There have been many critiques of the video, who have been quick to point out that the video simplifies a much more complex topic: here, here, and here .

A more pointed cultural criticism takes aim at the colonialist, paternalistic stance that reeks of what author Teju Cole calls the “White Savior Complex," see @tejucole or Ethan Zuckerman’s blog above for a synopsis). And I think all of these criticisms are valid, on point, and appropriate.

As I was watching the Kony video, I couldn’t help but reflect on my experiences working with youth development in the San Francisco Bay Area: in Richmond and Daly City, California. The majority of this work, though it is aimed at “youth leadership” and “youth development” is actually driven by the needs, purposes, schedules of adults. Much of it uses the same rhetorical device as the Invisible Children video: casting the purposes of the “older generation” mentioned in the beginning of the video as being antithetical to the youthful, love-infused spirit of a younger generation. A lot of it draws on the power of change, as in the video: “This changes everything.”

The video is powerful, I think, because its message is simple, and not even particularly about Joseph Kony, Uganda, or child-soldering (for an authentic voice on that, read A Long Way Gone. #Kony2012 and #stopKony is the is our bumper-sticker against the latest villain, it’s the yellow bracelet urging us into battle against cancer, never mind the latest research about the variegated monster that is “cancer”. #Kony2012 is not about bringing peace to Uganda any more than Arne Duncan is about supporting learning—it’s a slickly produced narrative that attempts to sell a vision of “evil” to youth in much the same way that George Bush wrangled the US into war in Iraq.

The question is: How we can use social media, Twitter especially, for educative purposes that challenge a single narrative. Twitter seems to be particularly effective way we can listen to multiple stories and hear multiple perspectives about a single issue. What have your experiences using Twitter to learn about issues such as #Kony2012? Have particular narratives or rhetorical strategies been particularly captivating, educative, or meaningful for you personally? What have you noticed about how stories are told on Twitter, especially about issues that you are not an expert in?

I am not being rhetorical—I am actually interested in your answers! This will help me in my doctoral research. 


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