Kony. Kony. Kony. It was hard to get the word out of my head last week after Invisible Children released a movie with the intention of making the brutal warlord Joseph Kony "famous." Pundits lined up to take their potshots at the film and all the repetition was advertising gold. The negative publicity sometimes felt as big as the clip itself. But the vehemence of some of the reactions was a little shocking. For a handful of more thoughtful and mature responses, I recommend Chris Blattman's blog, Ethan Zuckerman's analysis, Tom Watson's response in Forbes, and Sarah Margon's interpretation at ThinkProgress.
The movie is cast as an experiment in using the power of our newly connected world for good, and I don't think it has been given its fair shake yet. The reactions remind me of the scenes in No Impact Man where commentators are shocked that someone would publicly experiment with his ethics in a such a dramatic way. Like Colin Beavan's motivation to leave behind a sustainable planet for his daughter, Jason Russell (pictured above) is acting out of a sense of duty to his son: making the world a better place by helping to bring an accused mass murderer to justice. Russell took up this mantle after befriending a Ugandan boy named Jacob whose family had been terrorized by Kony's rebel army.
I must admit, when the Obama administration ordered 100 "adviser" troops to central Africa late last year to help track down Kony, my reaction was mixed. On the one hand, Kony clearly needs to be brought to trial before the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. The warrant for his arrest has been outstanding for nearly seven years, and catching him seems like a beneficial use of American military skill. On the other hand, the American track record for interventions is mixed at best.
But my anxiety over American imperialism aside, I have to hand it to Invisible Children for asking the world to enforce its international ethical commitments. As Chris Anderson of TED put it, it's a "bad time to be evil" when a film like this can go viral and amass tens of millions of views in under a week. Of course, digital vigilantes must follow through with action, in accordance with due process, or else risk behaving more like a spineless digital lynch mob.
If this incident proves anything it's that the power of simple narratives can motivate people to fight for the global good, and that our new technologies can act as an ethical amplifier.