It’s no secret that social media is more media than social. Facebook is littered with media organizations and personalities, as well as businesses, startups and individuals all hoping to “monetize” the platform. Some use it to advance a cause or plight, to galvanize support around a worthwhile event or to expose an injustice.
Jason Russell, a California filmmaker and Evangelical Christian, used YouTube to launch perhaps the most successful viral video campaign of all time in March with his film, “Kony 2012.” The film details the history of abuses, abduction and sex trafficking of children by Ugandan guerilla military leader Joseph Kony and logged more than 100 million views in six days. Many of those who watched the video were inspired to support the organization behind the video, Invisible Children, co-founded by Russell, which has lobbied the Ugandan and United States governments to bring Kony to justice for war crimes and crimes against humanity, for which he has been indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
All well and good, we figure. Kony is a beast in the mold of Idi Amin, it appears. But too few took time to investigate the organization behind this cause, at least initially.
One local artist did, however, as the Kony 2012 camp prepared to capitalize on the success of the video with its “Cover the Night,” campaign, a nationwide effort promoted via social media to encourage young people to plaster urban areas with posters and stickers promoting their efforts to expose Kony.
“I was initially skeptical of the video due to the rate at which it went viral and the cult-like vibe and body language I sensed from Jason Russell,” said Angelique Jones, who wrote The Pulse and photographed several of the sites downtown where volunteers littered walls with Kony 2012 posters on April 20.
Trouble was, by the time the event took place, Invisible Children and Russell himself had been exposed themselves—with Russell literally exposing himself during an embarrassing mental breakdown in San Diego last month, in which he was found naked, yelling and masturbating in public.
Russell’s breakdown was blamed in part on the increased criticism the organization has suffered, much of which Jones detailed in her email, including links to reports and videos. Much of that criticism concerned the organization’s distribution of funds, with critics charging that the group spends much of its money on staff salaries rather than the focus of its cause.
When Cover the Night supporters hit the streets of downtown and the campus of UTC, another group, Uncover the Night, followed, covering the Kony posters with their own stating the campaign was nothing less than evangelical right-wing propaganda.
“It was a small group of UTC students who defaced the Kony posters who were inspired to take this action after hearing about Uncover the Night, a group that is trying to expose the propaganda being spread by Invisible Children,” Jones wrote.
“Social media can be used for the greater good of democracy, but in the hands of power players it can be used to manipulate and control people,” she continued, “so I feel it is important to shed some light on the situation.”
Jones said the students did not formally participate in the Uncover the Night movement via petitions, but instead chose to deface the posters acting as a small group of underground students who hoped to awaken people to the possibility that there may be more to Kony 2012 than meets the eye.
Inspired by these actions, Jones created the website stopsocialmediapropaganda.org to encourage scrutiny of such social media and viral video campaigns and the organizations behind them. Jones said she is also filing the paperwork to become a nonprofit entity.
“While the FCC places regulations on television and radio to control propaganda, to my knowledge no such legislation has been enacted to protect the Internet from covert propaganda,” Jones said.
Jones may be a bit too late in uncovering Kony 2012. While supporters did come out for the April 20 campaign, the big event largely fizzled.
“The hyped event’s meager turnout could have a number of causes: our fleeting digital attention spans, or viral content’s fireworks-to-fizzle trajectories, or the challenges of translating online activism to real-world change, or Invisible Children’s failure to capitalize on the attention it had once it still had it, or Invisible Children’s own pivot when it came to the stated goal of the event, or the widespread backlash that brought phrases like ‘the white savior industrial complex’ newly, and powerfully, into the mass consciousness,” wrote The Atlantic’s Megan Garber in her blog on the magazine’s website on Tuesday.
While we applaud Jones’ efforts in targeting the exploitation of social media, it seems at least in this case the message was the messenger, namely Russell. And who wants to “like” a crazy man masturbating in public?