Kony 2012 backlash begins with Acadia student’s blog

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

The fierce debate over the viral campaign to expose Joseph Kony and his murderous Lord's Resistance Army has catapulted a young Canadian university student into an unintended spotlight.

A group called Invisible Children released a half-hour documentary on YouTube this week that has had millions of views and garnered support from celebrities from Janet Jackson to Zooey Deschanel.

Kony and his militia have been preying on communities in Uganda and neighbouring countries for more than two decades, kidnapping children to become his "soldiers" and leaving a trail of mutilation and devastation.

Invisible Children hopes raising Kony's comparatively low public profile via the video will lead to his arrest.

"If we succeed, we change the course of human history," filmmaker Jason Russell says in the documentary. "We are going to make Joseph Kony a household name. We are making Kony world news."

But the Globe and Mail notes the video has also provoked a backlash from those who challenge the campaign's approach and its aims.

Acadia University student Grant Oyston's brief critique of the Invisible Children video has itself gone viral.

Oyston, among other things, questioned Invisible Children's financing structure, its call for direct military intervention against the Lord's Resistance Army, and its connections with the Uganda and Sudanese armies.

"Military intervention may or may not be the right idea, but people supporting KONY 2012 probably don't realise they're supporting the Ugandan military who are themselves raping and looting away," Oyston wrote.

Oyston, 19, said lobbying the government to do more to bring Kony before the International Criminal Court and learning more about him is good, but advised against supporting Invisible Children's Kony 2012 campaign or donating to the group.

The Globe said Oyston's blog post drew more than a million hits within 18 hours, along with hundreds of emails.

"It's a bit of a shock," Oyston said. "I actually never intended to go viral, but I'm not complaining."

Nevertheless, the Invisible Children documentary is having an impact among the young.

"This is about a monster on the loose who needs to be stopped — and that's all it is," Blake Litchfield, a 19-year-old Calgary high school student, told Sun News Network.

"We're collaborating for the ultimate cause, to stop the slavery and abuse of tens of thousands of innocent children in Uganda," Michelle Gerard wrote on Toronto Kony 2012's Facebook page, apparently unaware the Ugandan army had chased Kony from the country.

Litchfield dismissed criticism of the effort as the kind of cynical backlash that inevitably greets something that's popular on social media.

"Someone is trying to do a good thing, and some people are just cutting it down," he told Sun News.

"You always get those certain people who are negative, and I don't know if they're doing it for shock value or because they genuinely believe what they are saying."