Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Kony 2012, 597, Lippmann, etc

One of the exhibits I am going to look at for Assignment 2 is the smart mob at work in the movement, called Kony 2012,  that is blazing through the younger set.  (One of the side benefits of this course is how much more I have to talk to my teenaged sons about!) And I wanted to share it myself and start to think out loud about it.

For those who don't know, Joseph Kony is, as a leader of a guerrilla army in Uganda, infamous and notorious for alleged crimes against humanity. But he is not yet famous. And that's what Kony 2012 aims to change. 

Using some of social media best practices, the group has styled its tactics after of a U.S. political campaign's, as it marches toward an April 20th day of international action. If you've got 30 minutes, watch the video! 

Writing in 1921 in Public Opinion, journalist and scholar Walter Lippmann could see the changing contours of the world of communication, even though smart mobs and collective intelligence were phenomena of the future. He tells us world wide press services, photography and moving pictures are "key inventions...for bringing the unseen world into the field of judgment" (177).

I am out of my depth on this  (and haven't finished the book, and am not convinced Lippmann would have been among the utopians of our age)  but this is a crucial development because it attacks an ancient assumption that Lippmann calls "of the utmost consequence." 

And that is that men could give little attention to public questions, and that the attention available would have to be confined to matters close at hand. 

"For the possibility of bringing any aspect of human affairs within the range of judgment breaks the spell which has lain upon political ideas," he writes. 

I sense that there are some tentative conclusions to reach looking at Kony 2012 with the help of Walter Lippmann. 

It took about a day to get the video 1.8 million views on YouTube, so something is happening. And about to happen.


Lippmann, W. (2010). Public opinion. BN Publishing.


  1. Hi Glen,

    I've seen the Kony posted no less than 50 times on my Facebook over the last day. While I understand the acts he's committed to be an atrocity, it seems like there may be a lot more to this story on multiple perspectives: the charity itself is being accused of only donating around 33% of their donations to the actual cause, and many are calling the film misrepresentative of the real problem. Have a look at this NP article from this morning:



  2. From Slacktivism to Activism (“Yardi_CHI11_SIG.pdf,” n.d.)

    Web 2.0 note - all the info is at our fingertips, from the National Post article to Invisible Children and a short stop at the International Court site.

    The National Post article tries hard to be critical. Consider Yale University’s Chris Blattman's quote: “There’s also something inherently misleading, naive, maybe even dangerous, about the idea of rescuing children or saving of Africa." Does he say the same about efforts to raise money to combat famine in Africa?

    Looking at Invisible Children's financial statements, it's true that about a third goes to programs in Africa, but if the organization's mission includes advocacy and awareness raising, as it arguably does, that figure jumps to two-thirds. Depends how one looks at it.

    It will be interesting to see what happens April 20, Kony2012's night of action. Will the interaction of people on social media translate into 'boots on the ground'? It certainly can move what is considered to be an issue. Take breastfeeding, for example. A young woman in Vancouver got annoyed that Facebook was taking down her photos of breastfeeding and on February 8, nurse-ins were staged outside Facebook offices in New York; Toronto; Austin, Texas; Seattle; London; Paris; Amsterdam; Madrid; Singapore; Dublin, Ireland; and Sydney. Below are two links, one to a story on the nurse-ins and the second some data on growing mentions of breastfeeding from Google Trends.

    Glenn is onto an interesting field of inquiry. The article “From Slacktivism to Activism: Participatory Culture in the Age of Social Media” poses research questions to pursue, including investigations into how social media impacts activism.

    Evangelista, B., Ho, V. Breastfeeding moms hold Facebook nurse-in protest. SF Gate Accessed March 8, 2012 at

    Google Trends. Accessed March 8, 2012 at,+breastmilk,+breast+milk&ctab=0&geo=all&date=all&sort=0

    From Slacktivism to Activism: Participatory Culture in the Age of Social Media CHI 2011, May 7–12, 2011, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Accessed March 8, 2012 at

    1. Judith, thanks for the slacktivism-activism guidepost citation.

      When we're talking about these questions, it is good to keep one eye on the past, and consider that, while the technology may be new, the issues may not be.

      In the age of the French Revolution, Rousseau wrote the Letter to M. d'Alembert, in which he, without naming it so, explored the slacktivism-activism phenomenon that confronts us in the Kony2012 movement. Speaking of the effects of the theatre, he argued that it let us experience public virtue vicariously, while neglecting it in our real lives. (Duncombe, 2007)

      "In giving our tears to these fictions, we have satisfied all the rights of humanity without having to give anything more of ourselves," Rousseau said. (Bloom, 1968)

      And again: "The more I think about it, the more I find that everything that is played in the theatre is not made nearer to us but is made more distant."

      Ilusion, delusion, the spectacle provided by the 18th century theatre, the spectacle provided by 21st century social media platforms, it is all interesting to consider.....

  3. Very interesting! We've been having a discussion like this with my undergrad. ALES class. Almost half of them (the class has about 150 students in it) tweeted the link to me and, as Jarett mentioned, it has done the rounds (is still doing?!) on Facebook.

    Judith - interesting critical thinking about the financial records. Do you have any more information about the org.?