Is ‘Clicktivism’ Destroying Meaningful Social Activism?

March 15th, 2012 - by admin

The Stream / Al Jazeera – 2012-03-15 01:20:41

Backlash against #Kony2012 calls into question the effects of online campaigns.

(March 14, 2012) — In the aftermath of the controversial #Kony2012 campaign, many netizens have challenged “clicktivism” — the idea that one engages in activism by sharing something online — and its potential to shape real world change.

The documentary “Kony 2012” by the non-profit Invisible Children calls for the arrest of Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony, who has recruited child soldiers to wage a more than 20-year war in northern Uganda. Critics say the video, which now has more than 76 million views, distorts the facts and reinforces Western stereotypes.

In this episode of The Stream, we speak to journalist Rosebell Kagumire, Ugandan cabinet minister Betty Oyella Bigombe, and Emma Ruby-Sachs, campaign director for Avaaz.

What do you think? Do campaigns such as #Kony2012 do more harm than good? Send us your thoughts and comments on Facebook or Twitter using hashtag #AJStream.

The documentary is now the most viral video in history, and according to research by Visible Measures, “Kony 2012” was able to amass 100 million views in a mere six days. In response to the pervasive criticism it received, Invisible Children issued the following statement:

Invisible Children Official Response

Thank you for reading this and doing further research about Invisible Children (IC) and KONY 2012. In response to this explosion of interest about the KONY 2012 film, there have been hundreds of thousands of comments in support of the arrest of Joseph Kony and the work of Invisible Children. However, there have also been pieces written that are putting out false or misleading information about these efforts.

This statement is our official response to some of these articles and is a source for accurate information about Invisible Children’s mission, financials and approach to stopping LRA violence.

Invisible Children’s mission is to stop LRA violence and support the war-affected communities in East and Central Africa. These are the three ways we achieve this mission; each is essential:

1) Make the world aware of the LRA. This includes making documentary films and touring them around the world so that they are seen for free by millions of people.

2) Channel energy from viewers of IC films into large-scale advocacy campaigns to stop the LRA and protect civilians.

3) Operate programs on the ground in LRA-affected areas that provide protection, rehabilitation and development assistance.

As you will see, we spend roughly one third of our money on each of these three goals. This three-prong approach is what makes Invisible Children unique. Some organizations focus exclusively on documenting human rights abuses, some focus exclusively on international advocacy or awareness, and some focus exclusively on on-the-ground development. We do all three. At the same time. This comprehensive model is intentional and has proven to be very effective.

We are committed, and always have been, to be 100% financially transparent and to communicate in plain language the mission of the organization so that everyone can make an informed decision about whether they want to support our strategy.

Re: Financials — Invisible Children’s financial statements are online for everyone to see. Financial statements from the last 5 years, including our 990, are available at The organization spent 80.46% on our programs that further our three-fold mission; 16.24% on administration and management costs; and 3.22% on direct fundraising in Fiscal Year 2011. Invisible Children is independently audited every year and in full compliance with our 501(c)3 nonprofit status.

Below is a screen-shot from pages 35 and 36 of the 2011 Invisible Children annual report that detail our total expenses for Fiscal Year 2011. An expense statement by class is the way nonprofits present their expenses to the public because it’s the clearest way to show the purpose of different organizational expenses vs. a line item expense statement such as the one on page 6 of our Audited Financial Report.

Re: Charity Navigator Rating — Charity Navigator gives Invisible Children 3 out of 4 stars. It’s gives our Programs its highest rating of 4 stars. Our Accountability and Transparency score is currently at 2 stars due to the fact that Invisible Children does not have 5 independent voting members on our board of directors — we currently have 4.

We are in the process of interviewing potential board members, and we will add an additional independent member this year in order to regain our 4-star rating by 2013. We have been independently audited by Considine and Considine since Fiscal Year 2006, and all of our audits have resulted in unqualified opinions on the audit reports. An unqualified opinion means that the auditors believe the financial statements are free of material misstatement and are in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles of the United States.

Re: Better Business Bureau (BBB) — Participation in BBB’s program is voluntary — we are choosing to wait until we have expanded our Board of Directors, as some questions hinge on the size of our Board. The current Board is small in size and reflects Invisible Children’s grassroots foundation. We have now reached a juncture of success that has astonished even our greatest supporters. While it is important to retain a presence on the Board that reflects Invisible Children’s early beginnings, we are also working to expand the Board this year.

Re: Lobbying Efforts — Part of Invisible Children’s mission is advocacy, and we lobby within our 501(c)3 status. We have lobbied Congress on multiple occasions, but especially in 2009 and 2010 which led to the passage of the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act ( We lobby all members of Congress, regardless of party affiliation. We do not endorse a political party.

Federal laws exist to encourage charities to lobby within certain specified limits and Invisible Children has been careful to stay within these legal limits. Each year, as part of our Form 990, we submit an additional schedule that provides the financial details surrounding Invisible Children’s involvement in lobbying. We have also elected 501(h) status — part of which is a commitment to continue to voluntarily report our lobbying expenditures to the IRS. The Invisible Children Form 990 and audited financials for the past several years can be found on our website at:

The best researched paper supporting the policy position of the KONY 2012 campaign can be found here, drafted by Paul Ronan of Resolve:—3

But here are a few quick responses to some of the most common questions we’re seeing online:

Re: The strategy to secure Kony arrest – For more than two decades, Kony has refused opportunities to negotiate an end to the violence peacefully, and has used peace talks to build up his army’s strength through targeted abduction campaigns. Governments of countries where Kony has operated — including Uganda, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Central African Republic — have been unable to capture Kony or bring him to justice. This is because regional governments are often not adequately committed to the task, but also because they lack some of the specific capabilities that would help them do so.

The KONY 2012 campaign is calling for U.S. leadership to address both problems. It supports the deployment of U.S. advisers and the provision of intelligence and other support that can help locate and bring Kony to justice, but also increased diplomacy to hold regional governments accountable to their basic responsibilities to protect civilians from this kind of brutal violence.

Importantly, the campaign also advocates for broader measures to help communities being affected by LRA attacks, such as increased funding for programs to help Kony’s abductees escape and return to their homes and families. For a clear understanding of the KONY 2012 political goals, please see the letter to President Obama.

Re: Ugandan government human rights record — We do not defend any of the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Ugandan government or the Ugandan army (UPDF). None of the money donated through Invisible Children ever goes to the government of Uganda or any other government. Yet the only feasible and proper way to stop Kony and protect the civilians he targets is to coordinate efforts with regional governments.

Re: Stopping Kony — We are advocating for the arrest of Joseph Kony so that he can be tried by the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a precedent for future war criminals. The goal of KONY 2012 is for the world to unite to see Kony arrested and prosecuted for his crimes against humanity.

Re: Oversimplification of a complex issue – KONY 2012 portrays, in no uncertain terms, the image of a madman who manipulates children spiritually for his own tactical gains. In our quest to garner wide public support of nuanced policy, Invisible Children has sought to explain the conflict in an easily understandable format, focusing on the core attributes of LRA leadership that infringe upon the most basic of human rights.

In a 30-minute film, however, many nuances of the 26-year conflict are admittedly lost or overlooked. The film is a first entry point to this conflict for many, and the organization provides several ways for our supporters to go deeper in learning about the make-up of the LRA and the history of the conflict. Likewise, our work on the ground continually adapts to the changing complexities of the conflict.

Re: Exaggerating the impact of the LRA and implying the war is in Uganda – Since the LRA left Uganda in 2006, Invisible Children has been publicly denouncing their atrocities in DR Congo, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic (CAR), while continuing to work with now-peaceful communities in post-conflict northern Uganda. In September 2011, Invisible Children launched the LRA Crisis Tracker website with the aim of providing high-quality, verified information about LRA attacks in DR Congo, South Sudan, and CAR. A detailed methodology is available on this website that explains how information is collected, verified, and rated in terms of its accuracy and reliability.

Every incident that is reported through the Early Warning Radio Network run by Invisible Children’s partner organizations is carefully verified with other actors in DR Congo and CAR before being published to the LRA Crisis Tracker; even after publishing, incidents on the website continue to be modified as — and when — further information becomes available. Each incident is rated according to two criteria, on a scale of 1 to 5: whether an incident has actually occurred, and whether it was committed by the LRA. In this way, Invisible Children is providing concrete data and helping to dispel unfounded rumours about LRA attacks.

Re: Perpetuating the ‘White Man’s Burden’ and the savior complex – Invisible Children’s programs in Uganda, DR Congo, and Central African Republic are implemented with continuous input from, and in respect of the knowledge and experience of, local communities and their leaders. In Uganda, we learned very quickly that a top-down, Western approach was not the answer, and that local solutions were needed to fill critical humanitarian gaps.

It is for this reason that over 95% of IC’s leadership and staff on the ground are Ugandans on the forefront of program design and implementation. In DR Congo, Invisible Children works with the Commission diocesaine justice et paix (CDJP), supporting projects that have been identified as priorities by local partners and that are responsive to local realities and needs.

Invisible Children staff members in project areas consistently strive to ensure that they build the capacity of local partners and do not take on duties where local partners can more responsibly and effectively carry these out; the organization meticulously monitors and evaluates the impact of its work on the ground, partnering with Princeton in Africa and employing qualified Monitoring & Evaluation professionals.

Re: The photo of the founders with the guns (see banner image) – A story told by Jason Russell: Let me start by saying that that photo was a bad idea. We were young and we got caught up in the moment. It was never meant to reflect on the organization. The photo of Bobby, Laren and I with the guns was taken in an LRA camp in DRC during the 2008 Juba Peace Talks. We were there to see Joseph Kony come to the table to sign the Final Peace Agreement.

The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) was surrounding our camp for protection since Sudan was mediating the peace talks. We wanted to talk to them and film them and get their perspective. And because Bobby, Laren and I are friends and had been doing this for 5 years, we thought it would be funny to bring back to our friends and family a joke photo. You know, “Ha-ha — they have bazookas in their hands but they’re actually fighting for peace.”

The ironic thing about this photo is that I HATE guns. I always have. Back in 2008 I wanted this war to end, like we all did, peacefully, through peace talks. But Kony was not interested in that; he kept killing. And we still don’t want war. We don’t want him killed and we don’t want bombs dropped. We want him alive and captured and brought to justice.

Re: Programs on the Ground — While the vast majority of the recent exposure and commentary about Invisible Children has been towards the awareness portion of our mission, below is an up-to-date explanation of our work in Central Africa, an equally important element to the mission of Invisible Children.