Kony 2012 is not an aberration. It is the inevitable next step in a trend among charities and advocacy groups trying to connect distant disasters with donors, voters and policymakers in the west. That is laudable. But a consequence is that it has confused causes and effects, spawning a new breed of campaigner that measures success in terms of hits, letters sent, wristbands sold, T-shirts worn, videos watched, tweets retweeted – and untruths spread. It is a form of charity that seems to have become more about salving consciences than actually helping people.
The defence is that such actions raise awareness. True. They do. And it turns a foreign disaster in a faraway land into one that matters in Congress or Parliament. (Foreigners, of course, don’t vote. People who buy their T-shirts new do.)
But what is the point if the simplistic slogan on a dog bowl or G-string is based on a flawed analysis? The danger is that you build a mass movement that writes letters to MPs, builds pressure for a course of action – but the course of action fails because of its basis in a misleading analysis.
Save Darfur is the example I know best. The movement did an incredible job of mobilising popular support, helped have President Omar al-Bashir indicted at the International Criminal Court and pushed for a failing African Union peacekeeping force to be rehatted in United Nations blue. And you know what? Darfur hasn’t been saved. They were the wrong solutions.
All that awareness. All that goodwill. Wasted.
Sadly this has now become the model. Tweets, wristbands and charity singles rule. Will it raise awareness? Yes. Will it make a difference? No. Does anyone care? No. We’ve all shown the world how much we care. And got a nice new T-shirt.