Tuesday, April 03, 2012

A Reformation of Christian Education, Pt. 4: #Kony2012 As An Advocacy Model

Sure, say what you will about the #Kony2012 movement... it may oversimplify the issue, it may do a bit of the "great white savior" thing and it may encourage unnecessary militarization in central Africa, but whether you think its important or not, you now know who Joseph Kony is... Jason Russell and the rest of the folks at Invisible Children have already succeeded in making Kony famous, no matter what folks decide to do on April 20th.  Essentially then, no matter what you think about the aims of the #Kony2012 campaign, it's pretty fair to say that it can provide folks involved in advocacy ministries with a really powerful model to conduct their own social justice campaigns.  Following the pattern of our emerging system of networked meaning-making, what did #Kony2012 do right?  Furthermore, how could folks involved with advocacy improve upon that model in their own ministries?

Before doing so, if you haven't already seen the #Kony2012 film, here it is:

So #Kony2012 definitely picked up on the meme of web-based activism and ran with it.  Time's 2011 Person of the Year, after all was the The Protestor, a new type of activist largely propelled by social networking technology... think #Occupy and the Arab Spring.  Furthermore, #Kony2012 also took very seriously the idea of teaching through personal narratives... the promise Jason makes to Jacob early in the film and the conversation with little Gavin are both extremely powerful.  Part of their success was also one of their greatest weaknesses... they were able to boil down a very complex issue into an extremely simple one... "Joseph Kony is the worst," and he must be stopped.  They also made contacting policy makers very easy, and specifically by listed folk's Twitter names, they made those advocacy actions publicly visible to other Twitter users: "Engage Your Policy Makers."

Finally, despite very strong push back, Kony2012 was able to engage their critics in conversation, at least somewhat through their #AskICAnything tag and responses on YouTube.  Here's an example:

Unfortunately, many of #Kony2012's weaknesses come from its use of broadcast era communication strategies in the emerging era of networked communications.  Essentially, most of the campaign's communications were largely one-directional... they came up with a great film, have a great website and a pretty decent Facebook Page, but they haven't spent much time attending to the folks involved in the movement.  If you look carefully at their Facebook Page for instance, it's made of "announcements" from Invisible Children, but folk's comments are never really responded to.  Perhaps this wasn't always the case, but at this point comments on their YouTube page are entirely turned off and its the same thing on their blog.  While the #Kony2012 video argues that a "bunch of littles could make a big difference," all they ask of folks in the video is to 1) sign a pledge, 2) buy a kit and wear a bracelet,  3) donate money and 4) share the video.  There's no invitation to learn more through conversation, share personal stories and create content.  Why not supply folks with an image to make their own stickers and posters with?  Why not help folks to design their own posters?  Why not ask people to tell stories of their own activism through YouTube and communal blogging?

Let me be clear... except for the "great white savior" thing, I really appreciate what #Kony2012 is trying to do, and overall, they created a very powerful model for web-based advocacy.  I'm interested to see a second video they're publishing this Thursday, and excited to see what happens on April 20th.  As they say at the beginning of the first video, their movement was an "experiment" at the beginning of the networked communications age, and it was largely successful.  Still, even for folks as smart and creative as the ones at Invisible Children, letting go of all our broadcast-age habits can prove pretty difficult.

God's peace,

Dustin is a Masters of Divinity candidate in his second year of study at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. While seeking ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, his focus is on the intersection between worship, service and justice building in de-centralized faith communities unencumbered by a traditional church building. In his free time, Dustin really likes playing frisbee, hiking and pretending to know how to sing.

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