KONY 2012: Critical Analysis & the Digital Firehose

Mar 17

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At this point it is pretty difficult to be on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Vimeo or most any given blog without seeing someone promoting or decrying Invisible Children’s KONY 2012 viral campaign. Valid criticisms have been made about organizational transparency, over simplification of complex issues, slactivism and the implication that U.S. college students must save Africa because it cannot save itself. Less impressive arguments have been made about the number of children (there may be less children, as if less children makes it less horrifying) and the narcissism/unlikablity of the filmmakers (which has different context now). Invisible Children and others have engaged critics with valid points of defense, and numerous celebrities and policy makers have added their support to the campaign. Perhaps most valuable are thoughtful pieces written or curated to acknowledge valid points both for and against the campaign.

But this post isn’t about adding my opinion to that conversation. Nor is it to address Jason Russell’s very public breakdown. As an educator, I believe both the lovers and the haters can agree on one thing: the value of KONY 2012 in the classroom. Regardless of your opinion or discipline, the KONY 2012 viral video, campaign and even Russell’s arrest provide an incredible opportunity to engage students on multiple levels.

At the core of all disciplines is an understanding of critical thinking and analysis. KONY 2012 gives us a unique opportunity to engage students from the contents of their Facebook news feeds, Twitter streams and YouTube channels. There are obvious applications for those of us in the communication field, from strategic use of social media to technical analysis of the video’s editing. But there are other, less obvious but equally relevant applications. The day it broke, I showed the viral video in my Interpersonal Communication class. We were discussing emotion. Having the students watch the video, specifically analyzing the emotions the filmmakers were trying to evoke, whether they were successful, and how important emotional appeal was to the success of the campaign provided an incredibly engaging conversation on emotion. At the same time it allowed me to encourage critical analysis, acknowledging the controversy surrounding the campaign and encouraging students to dig deeper before jumping on the bandwagon.

The possibilities for engagement in sociology, psychology, philosophy, political science, social work, history, and intercultural classrooms are endless and valid regardless of the success of the campaign. But beyond these specific applications, this campaign (and others like it) gives us the opportunity to prepare our students to be life long learners and critical thinkers, by applying the rigor of academics to their digital firehose. Regardless of how one may feel about technology, it is facilitating today’s global conversations, both the heady and the inane. Using opportunities like KONY 2012 to demonstrate how the same analysis used to examine academic texts can also be used to engage the constant stream of information flooding their news feeds, streams and channels is an incredibly valuable gift, that will serve our students long after the debate over KONY 2012 ends.

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