This year’s RAI Undergraduate Conference has attracted university students from all over the country, including Aberdeen and UCL, to visit St Andrews. Kicking off Close Encounters: Bringing Anthropology Home, Betty Okot gave a talk titled ‘Kony 2012: Reopening Old Wounds…and…Where Were You When It Mattered?’ To be totally honest, I was quite excited for this talk. Not because I am interested in Anthropology, but because of my background in marketing.The fact that Kony 2012 went viral so quickly and the impact it had on such a global scale seemed the perfect example of how social media can impact people all over the world.
When I arrived, I found the talk to be quite different from what I had expected. Okot discussed how the people in these conflict areas reacted to the video. In most cases, rather than being pleased the rest of the world became aware of the atrocities they had lived through or grateful they were willing to help, they seemed annoyed that it was “reopening old wounds” when there was an opportunity to publicize it all during the conflict. To them, the timing of the message was not great, and they felt the media was exploiting the situation and over simplifying the problems.
When I later caught up with Okot, she described it as “reminding the victims that something could have been done sooner.” Fair enough, the video did come out five years after Kony had disappeared. However, it’s difficult to discredit the impact the campaign had – the message was valid and raised the profile of a big problem. The globalization of the campaign displayed what Okot termed “successful digital activism”.
Overall, Okot’s speech was excellent and truly made me think about the efforts that had been made by Invisible Children and the rest of the world. While what they’ve done can not be classified as anything short of incredible, the question to many in these conflict areas still remains: Why now? Why wasn’t something done when it really mattered?