War Crimes, Wristbands, and Web 2.0: Exploring Online Justice Advocacy, Colonialism and ‘Civilizing Missions’ through Kony2012

Sarah Steele


On March 5, 2012, the advocacy organization Invisible Children released a short 30-minute film entitled Kony2012, on YouTube.com. Within days, the video had gone viral, gaining a mass global viewership. By December 2012, the video had received over 94 million views worldwide, attaining the unofficial status as “the most viral video of all time.” While Kony2012 raised awareness about the urgency of the manhunt for Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) leader Joseph Kony and his exploitation of child soldiers in Uganda, the film generated much controversy. Commentators, both from within Uganda and beyond, raised serious questions about the oversimplified Colonial-style intervention (with its especial focus on military interven- tion) that the video seemed to promote. This article explores in-depth to what extent the Kony2012 phenomenon embodies both the material and discursive legacies of colonialism. It finds that, while fostering a digital citizenship that promotes the sharing of valuable information, such online advocacy may also unintentionally reproduce and rapidly disseminate ste- reotypes, bias, and racism. Thus, Kony2012 is a case study of the ways in which online media can be both productive and limiting in addressing hate and exploitation. While the Kony2012 campaign quickly and impressively raised popular awareness of child trafficking and exploitation, it nevertheless subtly marginalized the experiences and cultural perspectives of the Ugandan people and privileged a Western-centric interventionism.

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