Kony 2012 Viral Video: Debate Erupts Over Non-Profit Group Invisible Children

The Kony 2012 viral video demands justice for Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, a man who kidnaps children, turns young girls into sex slaves and kills those who don’t comply.

Said video has now been seen by over 50 million viewers, thanks to its spread across social media sites (aided by the likes of Rihanna and Justin Bieber retweeting the link to the film). This increased awareness of Kony’s actions is, broadly speaking, A Good Thing.

However, not everybody has fallen into the default mode of celebrity-endorsed, tub-thumping outrage. While Kony is plainly a dangerous criminal who needs to be captured and brought to justice immediately, questions are now being raised about the organization responsible for posting the video.

The non-profit group Invisible Children is the group behind the 30-minute Kony film, and is suddenly facing an unexpected backlash.

The Tumblr page Visible Children is the focus of this criticism. The blog, set up by sociology and political science student Grant Oyston, urges viewers to “think critically” about the Kony 2012 video. While Oyston concedes the aims of Kony 2012 are laudable and that Joseph Kony must be captured, he also argues Invisible Children aren’t that squeaky clean themselves:

“[Invisible Children] have released 11 films, most with an accompanying bracelet colour (KONY 2012 is fittingly red), all of which focus on Joseph Kony. When we buy merch from them, when we link to their video, when we put up posters linking to their website, we support the organization. I don’t think that’s a good thing, and I’m not alone.

“Invisible Children has been condemned time and time again. As a registered not-for-profit, its finances are public. Last year, the organization spent $8,676,614. Only 32% went to direct services (page 6), with much of the rest going to staff salaries, travel and transport, and film production. This is far from ideal for an issue which arguably needs action and aid, not awareness, and Charity Navigator rates their accountability 2/4 stars because they lack an external audit committee. But it goes way deeper than that.”

If Invisible Children’s financial activities do not cause concern, Oyston also points out the Ugandan Army and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, both groups hunting Kony, are themselves accused (many, many times over) of rape and looting:

“Both the Ugandan army and Sudan People’s Liberation Army are riddled with accusations of rape and looting, but Invisible Children defends them, arguing that the Ugandan army is “better equipped than that of any of the other affected countries”, although Kony is no longer active in Uganda and hasn’t been since 2006 by their own admission. These books each refer to the rape and sexual assault that are perennial issues with the UPDF, the military group Invisible Children is defending.”

What do you think, readers? Has there been sufficient critical thought around the #KONY 2012 campaign? Do you agree with Oyston when he writes:

“If you want to write to your Member of Parliament or your Senator or the President or the Prime Minister, by all means, go ahead. If you want to post about Joseph Kony’s crimes on Facebook, go ahead. But let’s keep it about Joseph Kony, not KONY 2012.”


[Visible Children, via The Guardian]