Views: Why slacktivism doesn't work

May 10, 2012 | 11 a.m.

KONY 2012 illustrates the ineffectiveness of a social issue becoming merely an online fad

Views | Jessica Benham 

Why slacktivism doesn't work

Despite online enthusiasm, the Cover the Night campaign largely failed. | Courtesy of Invisible Children

Slacktivism – a noun constructed from the words “slacker” and “activism” – refers to the recent prevalence of online activist measures that require little to no effort from the participant. KONY 2012, the video released in March by Invisible Children, has been accused of promoting slacktivist attitudes and causing more harm than good.

The campaign has been successful, at least in part, by drawing attention to the atrocities committed by Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. Participation in the KONY 2012 movement can require as little as signing an online petition to urge the government, the African Union and the United Nations, to capture Kony.

Yet minimal effort from a considerable number of people has brought this movement to the attention of national and international bodies, many of which have pledged to do more to hunt down the LRA. In this sense, then, KONY 2012 was successful.

However, these positive results were short-lived. When the KONY 2012 movement asked supporters to participate in the Cover the Night campaign, which would have taken more effort, few responded. This campaign planned to cover walls in cities worldwide with posters and murals of Kony to draw more attention to the situation. Response was minimal.

Also contributing to negative perceptions of the movement was the recent arrest of Jason Russell, the co-founder of Invisible Children, who was recently detained by police after a meltdown in which he appeared naked in the San Diego area. The campaign has attempted to spin this as related to exhaustion and stress.

KONY 2012 has also come under substantial criticism for failing to reflect the true state of affairs in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Invisible Children is a Christian ministry tied to the right-wing evangelical Barnabas Group. Ugandans perceive Christianity to be tied to Kony and the LRA, which is a Christian militant group. This makes it difficult for Invisible Children’s message to be received positively in Uganda. This led to a recent riot in Northern Uganda, during which Ugandans threw rocks at leaders of Invisible Children.

Furthermore, the viral video promotes the idea that Kony is the most significant human rights violator in Uganda and the DR Congo, which is not the case. In fact, the Ugandan government, to which Invisible Children has close ties, has committed massive human rights violations against its own people and has been charged by the International Court of Justice. Even if the campaign has helped to draw attention to the problem, it has provided false information and simplified the problem.

The United Nations has expressed concerns that KONY 2012’s focus on using its funds to support military action against Kony, rather than using the funds to help reintegrate former child soldiers, could cause additional violence in the area. Since no one is sure of Kony’s precise location, the promotion of purely military action could backfire.

KONY 2012, it seems, could do more harm than good. But is slacktivism all bad? Perhaps not. At least participating in slacktivist efforts raises awareness about the issues, which is better than no knowledge at all.

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