There is a diary on the rec list right now saying that the charity behind the viral (26 million views in three days) KONY 2012 campaign is "shady" and a "scam."
In under five minutes I found this substantive response to much of the critique, which even one of the accusers says is "solidly done on financials." But many of the commenters in the diary had already written the charity off as bogus.
If all it takes is some questions and accusations for people to cry "fraud," our hopes for larger social change are fucked.
Hope and cynicism can both go viral. Do you want people asking "how can I fight this evil charity scam," or "how can we stop a criminal warlord?"
The answers -- and the way we deal with skeptical critics -- go far beyond one charity, and they explain why Rethugs continue to beat us in elections when most people actually agree with progressives.
[Note: I have literally run out of time to properly finish this post, but I wanted to put up what I have for now.]
Just to be clear, I only heard about this organization and campaign yesterday. I'm not a donor or a volunteer, the whole thing is new to me.
A friend had linked to the video yesterday, and I thought "there's no way I'm spending 29 minutes watching this thing, but I'll check it out."
By the end of the video, I was crying. And I had learned some things. I had also seen a lot of people getting involved in a social justice cause that until yesterday I didn't know existed.
15 26 million people have seen the video in three days.
Then tonight on the rec list I saw the "Do NOT donate" diary.
I clicked the links and read the criticisms. Some of them seemed substantive, but other points reminded me of charges we heard leveled against Obama in '08 and Dean before him. ("Too slick," "just a lot of empty enthusiasm," "just shallow internet activism, therefore it's meaningless.")
Within a few minutes I saw that there was an extensive response to the criticisms, and even one of the original skeptics felt satisfied about the financial questions. (Links in my intro section.)
But reading the diary comments I was amazed at how many kossacks seemed to write off the whole campaign, or become more energized to "fight the scam" than do anything about Joseph Kony.
I'm not going to address all of the criticisms of the campaign for two reasons:
1) I think others are already doing a better job of both raising valid questions and answering them. Just google, it's a treasure trove. My favorite post so far, written by a man whose mother is from Northern Uganda.
But more importantly,
Regardless of whether you agree with the campaign's content, do you think there might be something to learn from their methods? Would you like to have another 26 million people turn out to vote Democratic in November?
Interestingly, some of the exact methods that have made this so viral are also the subject of some of the criticisms. I think we face a choice in how we respond, and that choice determines our ability to win elections.
KONY 2012 Campaign Methods -or- How to get 26 million views in three days
I. Simplify (and let them accuse you of over-simplifying)
The KONY 2012 campaign has boiled a world full of injustice down to a hunt for one criminal. (While some critics raise the concern that this tactic could devolve into "mob justice," he was ranked #1 by the International Criminal Court, and the campaign is for his arrest, not a vigilante killing.)
But many critics of the campaign are crying "oversimplification!"
Undoubtedly, Kony's capture will not solve all problems. But it is impossible to mobilize people by crying "fix the systemic and interrelated issues of corruption, public health, unemployment, racism, sexism, education, the destructive legacy of colonialism, etc, etc, etc." That leads to blank stares and apathy.
Simplification is something progressives need to do more of, not less of. It's part of why "the 99%" resonates so strongly. Simplification is one of the methods that wingnuts use to great effect to mobilize people to the polls.
Of course the world is complex, but you can only eat the (free-range, vegan, Fair Trade, cruelty-free) elephant of social change one bite at a time.
Takeaway point - unless someone is accusing us of oversimplying, we're not reaching everyone we could.
II. Tell people what to do - make it concrete and easy.
The KONY 2012 campaign gives people some simple options for taking action - contacting a cultural or political influencer, sharing the video, and yes, donating.
I heard great success stories about the Obama campaign's strategy of asking for small, simple actions to begin with, and then asking for bigger actions as people's engagement progressed.
Sign up on BarackObama.com.
Email friends about Obama.
Make three voter calls.
Come to a training.
Be a neighborhood captain, etc.
Some people criticized this as "slacktivism." "You can't make a difference just by emailing or watching a video!!" True, but you also can't make a difference by paralyzing people with vague calls to "follow their conscience," nor with overwhelming admonitions to change their whole lives to fight imperialism.
III. Embrace the dark art of marketing - and be ready to be criticized for it.
I cannot remember the last political or social-justice video I watched that lasted 29 minutes. When I saw that the KONY 2012 video was going to be that long, I literally was like "yeah, I doubt I'll be watching this whole thing."
But it hooked me, and kept hooking me, all the way through until the end.
But...but...but...E-vil!! Manipulative!! Superficial!! Too glossy!! Marketing, ew, bad!!
If you think, as I used to, that marketing is a bad thing, tell me this - who do you think influences more people right now: Coca-cola, or Bernie Saunders? Are more people talking about the new iPad or about Sandra Fluke?
PROGRESSIVES NEED TO LEARN MARKETING!
Marketing something worthwhile is an accomplishment to be proud of when we succeed. Condescension and revulsion at the mere word "marketing" are self-indulgent luxuries that cede the field to our enemies and abandon those we would help.
[Note to the reader: this is where I ran out of time to polish and properly finish the post. Beware all who read on - below lie sentence fragments, half-developed thoughts, and other casualties of the approximately 6 hours it's taken me to wrestle with this thing tonight.]
Some final words on skepticism versus doubt and cynicism.
The dynamic of people throwing baseless of very thinly sourced doubts on KONY 2012 reminded me of the effect of climate deniers - if you can sow doubt, you can create paralysis. I'm not saying all criticisms fall in this category, far from it. But when you just say "seems shady, I'll tell everyone I know it's a scam," I'm sorry but that's not good enough.
In the same way, Republicans paralyze political engagement by repeating "gubmint doesn't work" ad nauseum for decades.
Strong negative claims create cynicism and doubt, and in the resulting paralysis, injustice always wins.
Before we jump on the bandwagon that this whole thing is a scam and a fraud, maybe it's worth asking what progressives can learn from the project.
Some of the criticisms remind me of the whining about Obama in 2008 being "just an inspirational speech-giver." The organization is accused of "over-simplifying" and putting "too much emphasis on marketing."
Well guess what?
Most people need their political engagement over-simplified!
And more importantly, the KONY 2012 campaign falls directly in the netroots, slacktivist lineage that runs from Howard Dean to small-donor donations for Obama.
Would you rather have viral hope, however imperfect, or viral cynicism, with all of our busy, low-information friends simply repeating "Oh I heard that was a scam, forget it."
But for many of the commenters in the rec-listed diary, the accusations are proof enough that the Kony campaign is a fraud, to be denigrated and dismissed. Oh yeah, and warn all your friends about the scam!
And the willingness to so easily buy into the criticisms remind me of how the Merchants of Doubt create paralysis and apathy by saying "well I heard this one person disagreed or said it was bogus."