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Is 'Kony' phony? Area residents jump onto viral video; some worry campaign is a scam

By JR Ortega
March 9, 2012 at 3:05 p.m.
Updated March 9, 2012 at 9:10 p.m.

Brandon Webb helped to create a Facebook page for Cover the Night-Kony 2012-Victoria.

People in the Crossroads want to inspire change halfway across the world thanks to the power of social media.

Already, thousands in the Crossroads have watched the 30-minute viral video, which details the true story of Joseph Kony, a leader in the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda who has kidnapped thousands of children - turning them from innocents into prostitutes and soldiers.

The video aims to raise awareness through an event on April 20, when Kony 2012 supporters will cover their respective cities in posters, making the leader famous for all the wrong reasons.

But amid all of the hype, some worry the campaign is ill-advised, or perhaps even a scam.

Let's cover Victoria!

Brandon Webb and Chase Graves both saw the video for the first time only days ago.

"It blew up on my Facebook newsfeed," said Webb, 23, who works at Complete Nutrition on North Navarro Street and moved to Victoria in August. "Once it gets into it, you're stuck to the video. Halfway through, I was already wanting to help."

The video was well-produced and contains some graphic scenes. The well-spoken narrator and initial proponent of the video speaks about his experience in Uganda as images of children with scarred faces and children carrying guns flash across the screen.

After seeing it, Webb and Graves were so moved, they latched onto the Cover the Night pages being created for cities across the U.S. and formed one for Victoria.

More than 6,000 people have been invited, and in only three days, more than 500 Crossroads residents have agreed to show up for the April 20 event.

"Being from Victoria, you never see people coming together to help for something like this," said Graves, a 23-year-old Victoria native who also works at Complete Nutrition.

The campaign is led by the nonprofit organization Invisible Children, and this is where the problem lies for many.

Other side of the coin

Invisible Children spent $8.6 million and only 32 percent went to the campaign's cause, while the rest went to staff salaries, travel and transport and film production, according to Invisible Children's 2010-11 online financial statements.

Toni Marek, a 33-year-old blogger from Victoria, said she thinks people's hearts are in the right place, but a simple Internet search reveals the truth about the campaign.

"This is a great thing and people need to be aware of it," Marek said. "My biggest problem with it is that the money is not going where they said it's going."

Though the video also made Marek teary-eyed, some of it is not factual. The video treats the situation as if the U.S. is doing nothing, when the U.S. has been involved for years.

In 2010, the Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act was passed to kill or capture Kony. And last October, President Barack Obama deployed 100 combat-equipped troops to try to help catch Kony.

Marek sides with those who support Kony 2012, but she is wary of what the message really is.

"Don't repost the video mindlessly," she said. "People were reposting because it tugged at their heart strings."

The problems with Kony have been going on for more than 20 years, and now it's all gaining steam thanks to one development - social media.

Power in numbers

If you have a Facebook account, chances are if you skim through your friend's list, you'll see at least one person who has their default photo set as a Kony 2012 poster.

This is what life in the social media era is like - lightning-fast information, viral videos, and so on.

More and more, the Crossroads is caught up in the power of these social media tools.

Amanda Reid, an Internet technician with the University of Houston-Victoria, manages the web and social networking side of the university.

Reid has also seen the Kony 2012 people and was surprised to see Victoria latch on so fast.

"It was surprising, especially for a smaller city," she said. "I think it's great that we're starting to get involved."

Years ago, emailing was how news traveled on the web, but now YouTube, Twitter and Facebook have made the immediacy even stronger, Reid said.

But is the social media world strong enough to spark change?

Reid thinks it may be.

"It's definitely a good first step," she said. That's a way to begin the change."

Reid says the Kony 2012 video works because it is targeted toward a young audience. At the same time, Reid suggests not just taking the video at face value, but also doing some research.

"I don't think social media is a phase," she said.

The viral video has even caught the attention of Alan Bligh, the Corpus Christi regional director for the Better Business Bureau.

Bligh and the bureau are not fully aware of the Invisible Children behind the Kony 2012 campaign.

"The BBB has no information on it," Bligh said. "But we need to get on top of this."

No matter the opposition on Kony 2012, people such as Webb and Graves say they will go forward with the April 20 event.

The two have seen the opposition already on the Facebook page. At least three out of every 10 people who comment question the campaign.

"Negative thoughts bring failed opportunities," Graves said.

Webb and Graves, as well as others, plan to create and buy posters locally to help the local economy.

Though they don't know where the local group will meet yet, the goal is for people in the Crossroads to wake up on April 21 and see the city painted red.

"We see both sides of it, and the points they say are valid," Webb said. "But at the same time, Kony 2012 is about the awareness of the situation."



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