Posts Tagged ‘KONY 2012’

We are surrounded by news 24 hours a day and it is impossible to pay attention to all of it. Most of us skim through the highlights and are informed of what goes on in the world, but seldom do we pay enough attention to each story to discover what happens to it in the media. I have, for the last three months, paid very much attention to the KONY2012 issue and how it has been presented in the media. Not only did I follow the issue but I reflected upon concepts related to the media; like manipulation, the public sphere and semiotics. This post is about what I discovered in relation to that.

The media is important to us, it is our public sphere, and it is where we share, receive and discuss information about the world and what concerns us. Unfortunately the media fails in many ways as a public sphere as information gets distorted in a swirl of bias, lies, facts and opinions. There are so many news broadcasters in the world today and they all filter the news to suit a specific audience. By tailoring the news according to their local audiences’ interests, many different views of one case are told to different people.

In the KONY2012 debate this was very clear. The western audiences have a certain interest in economy and power and so the western media reported on money, facts and the intentions of The Invisible Children. On the other hand, media broadcasters with a different target market, like Al Jazeera who wants to be “a voice of the voiceless”, talked about the Ugandan people, justice, empathy and real experiences. It took over a week before these important views were presented to us. My blogpost “Filtered News” goes more in depth on this.

Of course, social media is now also a big part of our public sphere, and here we have an opportunity for a more democratic sphere, but we also face the problem of a greater digital divide.

In addition to this, manipulation is a keyword within mainstream media. The Invisible Children, either if you think it was exploitive or genius, knew who they were targeting and that is why their video was so successful. Given that they planned to release the video online they knew their biggest audience would be teenagers, and this is why they made a video and not a streamed lecture. Other noticeable tactics were the simplifying of a complex issue, starring of young people and children as key-figures. Playing on emotions and empathy was a clear strategy of The Invisible Children.

While I am on the topic of manipulation I want to bring up George Gerbner and his cultivation theory. He argued that the media, in the long-term, lead people to believe the social reality portrayed by the media, also called “the mean world syndrome”. When Jason Russell had his public breakdown, mainstream media decorated their headlines with words like “public masturbation”, “running naked in streets” and “car wrecking” leading everyone to adopt this point of view, hashtages like #BONY2012 was all over Twitter short after. It goes to show how much influence the media can have on us.

Probably the most interesting part of the KONY issue for me was the relevance it had to semiotics. This is a complex concept, but basically it is about the reading of images and how we interpret them differently due to ideologies and experiences of the world. In KONY2012 there was an American organization which told the story of a long and complex issue in Africa to the whole world by the use of videos, pictures and text. Depending on where in the world we are from, we carry different histories and different experiences and therefore we view the world in different ways, our understanding of one story will be very diverse from others. While I saw The Invisible Children as a caring and thoughtful group who wanted to help, the Ugandan people reacted with disgust and felt the Americans were victimizing their race.

When we are dealing with global issues we should take notice of where other people come from and their history to gain a better understanding of their opinions. I think we often take for granted that everyone else should “see what we see”, we very often miss to see the reasons for other peoples actions because of this attitude.

Also other topics like moral panic and causes and effects are helpful when analysing new headlines. Our public sphere has become a complex space of ideas and information, and we must become active listeners to get the information right. News-reading changes with these concepts in mind, and can help us think before we act.


It is funny with photos how they can forge so many different emotions in people. Sometimes I look back at my photos from earlier vacations, and those pictures can take me straight back to that place. That one picture can make me remember smells, sounds, feelings and bring back memories. But the strange thing is, that if I show the same photo to someone else that was there, the photo can make them think of totally different things! They remember music, people and conversations; they have different memories than I do.

Semiotics are the science of signs and the study of meaning. It might sound dull, but when you start looking into semiotics it is surprising what you might find out. I have been following the KONY 2012 issue these months, and semiotics is actually quite relevant in that matter.

Things that convey meaning, like a word, a picture or a symbol, is really just a sign.  By calling them signs, I mean that these things signify something to us. It is a signifier or a denotation. When I hear a word, a concept forms, or an image or an understanding takes form in my head. This is the signified or the connotation. What makes it interesting thought is that sometimes different people need different signs to achieve the same understanding. For example, look at this sign: “Appelsin”. For a Norwegian this sign conveys a meaning, but and English speaking person need the sign: “orange” to convey the same meaning and a Spanish speaking person would look for the “naranja” sign to picture it.

Words as signs are one thing, languages can complicate things, but at least we understand why. When an image is a sign, it can be harder to understand that it is interpreted differently by different persons. An image is a representation. The emotions/feelings/interpretations the image represents are based on individual judgement or preference. It all relies on “myths” and ideologies.

In the KONY2012 campaign we were introduces to images like these:

When I look at these photos I see a young black child with a weapon. White men with weapons with black soldiers in the background and I see several children in the background of one man.

Based on my knowledge of the situation in Africa, the connotations that I got were that they needed help, and that the Invisible Children wanted to help them. Citizens in Uganda interpreted it differently when they saw the KONY2012 video. They saw the same signs that I saw, but it meant different things to them. As I saw a caring group of people with the intentions to help in a terrible situation, they saw Americans victimizing their race. Other people saw egoism, that the Invisible Children played on emotions to commercialize themselves, and there were several more connotations to find.

I wrote earlier that connotations depend on “myths” and ideologies. The Oxford dictionary defines ideology as “the set of beliefs characteristic of a social group or individual”. We interpret images depending on our norms and experiences of the world. A message can be read in three different ways:

  • The dominant reading. This is the reaction preferred by the media, what they try to achieve. The first reaction that many people had to KONY2012 was this one, and it was what The Invisible Children were aiming for.
  • Negotiated reading. This is when people are not sure, they are sceptical. Persons who doubted the intentions of The Invisible Children belonged to this group.
  • Oppositional reading. They disagree with what is said. This was the reaction of many of the Ugandan citizens.

Mainstream media know this, and so did The Invisible Children. They knew that our understanding of what they produced “depended on shared knowledge, shared myths and shared ideologies” (Turnbull 2012), so they tried to tailor the message to satisfy our ideologies.


Turnbull, S 2012, BCM110 “Media Mythbusting: ‘The Image Cannot Lie”, lecture notes, accessed 4/5/2012, eLearning@UOW.

It is funny with the public sphere. It is supposed to be a “space” or “place” where everyone are free to say their opinions and express themselves, somewhere where we all can debate on issues that are of concern to us and make the rest of the world conscious of our concerns. That is the ideal public sphere.

Where is this place? Is there really one such place where everyone is heard? Obviously there is no physical place in the world called the public sphere but our intentional sphere is in the media. Mainstream media are supposed to act as a news channel that listens to the public and share our views with the rest of the world. Is it really the case though? Do the media pick up on everyone’s concerns? Is everyone really being heard? I find that mainstream media fails as a public sphere. Rather than bringing other people’s messages across borders the mainstream media is promoting tailored and nicely packaged world views to us. Instead of informing us, they are teaching us, turning our public sphere into a monologue rather than a dialog.

When The Invisible Children released the KONY2012 video a lot of questions were raised in the world. There were different reactions to the video, its message, its content and the whole world wanted to discuss their concerns. The western media served us a mixed tape of news playing specialists opinions about money, facts and intentions. It took a whole week before they picked up on Al Jazeera’s view about the Ugandan people, empathy and real experiences. So the mainstream media is not doing a good job serving the public sphere, it basically fails to pick up concerns outside the western world.

Luckily, thanks to the internet and social media, we now have an opportunity to shape a new public sphere. By using Twitter, Facebook, blogging and vlogging members of the public sphere can take the responsibility in their own hands and share their concerns with the rest of the world instantly. There are no filters, no gatekeepers, only the voices of the public sphere. I find this sphere much more enlightening and informative. I believe that with social media our voices are stronger and more clear to the rest of the world. There is still a problem in this public sphere though; Digital divides. The picture below is meant to demonstrate the interest in the Kony-issue by region and date, but can it also be a demonstration of the digital divide in the world?

Reference: Dreher, T 2012, BCM110 "Global Issues, Global Media", lecture notes, accessed 08/04/2012, eLearning@UOW.

Reference: Dreher, T 2012, BCM110 "Global Issues, Global Media", lecture notes, accessed 08/04/2012, eLearning@UOW.

Not all citizens in the public sphere have digital access, some people lack digital skills and others lack money to access the digital world. We must struggle to find a way to solve this digital divide. I think having a citizenship in the world of social media gives us a strong voice and helps us having a true public sphere.

The term “slacktivism” has been discussed a lot in relation to KONY2012. It is funny really, if you Google the word, most hits are connected to the KONY issue! So what is it really? One definition from Wikipedia goes like this: “Slacktivism (…) is a term formed out of the words slacker and activism. The word is usually considered a pejorative term that describes “feel-good” measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other that to make the person doing it feel satisfaction.”

This definition puts the so-called “slackers” in a bad light, to be honest; I think the word “slacker” does so too. It basically says that persons not doing more than sharing a link about an issue is not doing this to support the issue but for the sole reason that he or she want to feel good about themselves. I actually do not understand why we have such a word, the more I think about it, I feel like we are having double standards. The rise of social media has been a hot topic in recent years and it still is. Everyone is starting to realize what power lies in the hands of “the people formally known as the audience” as (Jay Rosen). There are thoughts of mainstream media not being needed anymore because with social media we have created a more informative public sphere.  We have even witnessed regimes  fall to the ground due to use of social media (The Arab Spring).

What I do not like is that being an “activist” is seen as better than a “slacktivist”. Maybe it is mainstream media way of suppressing and badmouthing the new social media..? I would say that in both cases people are showing their support for a certain issue. When I first shared the KONY2012 video on Facebook I thought to myself that it would help spread the message, which were the point of the campaign. People tend to think that there is not much they can do to make a difference in the world, that they are just one person and that no one will hear them anyway. Clicking that one button to share something they find important might be the “only” thing they feel they can do.

Technology today is saying otherwise, it is saying that we CAN be heard, that we CAN make a difference. With media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, one voice can turn into 1 million voices in just a week. The KONY2012 video was, after my opinion, an online activist campaign. It definitely created awareness in the world, both good and bad, which is an activists goal. It created a reaction and according to the Herald Sun and CNN perhaps it also made someone take action. I think it is the new way of activism. Does it have to be rebellious, violent and messy before it can be called real activism? Everything is changing with the social media. Everything is going from being analog to being digital, so why not activism as well.

Sam de Brito wrote a column in the Sydney Morning Herald about slacktivism and the KONY2012 issue. I think it was really good and gives young people with good intentions some well deserved credit.

Once again we seem to have been taken for a ride by the media. The funny thing is, it is our third time on the same issue! Can we really only blame the media? Or should we step a side for a moment and consider ourselves? I am thinking of the KONY2012 issue, where we all digitally stood up together, “hand in hand”, strong and united to rescue the African children kidnapped by Joseph Kony. We were all determined to do it, 1,373,480 likes on YouTube proves it.

That was the first time we jumped on the carousel. Persuaded by the manipulative, but well made, video produced by Jason Russel and “The Invisible Children”.

It did not pass many days, maybe two, before media started their filtering and tailoring to custom their news reports towards their audience. One by one, we all started to doubt the campaign, is it a scam? Where does the money go? And suddenly, the united digital army was no longer solid. What happened? Did we first believe the campaign, and then changed our minds because “the media said so”? Did we not think for ourselves?

So there, taken for a ride a second time, this time convinced by the media broadcasters.

Jason Russel, co-founder and filmmaker of KONY2012 “The Invisible Children”, had a public breakdown a couple of weeks after the release of the video. No wonder, I would say, after being world-famous in a day and questioned your beliefs and intentions by a world population. But the media did not seem to think of it that way. Al Jazeera English gave us this article, The Washington Post came up with this, France24 was not better and wrote this report, I could go on and on. I notice one thing with all the different articles; negative headlines, negative intros and a negative start on the actual new-story. They all have similar words like “public masturbation”, “running naked in streets” or “wrecking cars”. My point is that even if they mention later in the story the reason to why this may have happened, many of us only skim through the headlines and shape our knowledge of the issue with very little information. I will also dare to say that news channels tend to write their most important message first, so their headlines and intros have an intentional persuasion.

We really like this carousel; three is a charm, right?

It is sad to see how fast the public can turn from being supporters to becoming bullies in a couple of weeks. If you log into twitter these days, the hashtag #KONY2012 has changed into #BONY2012 or #HORNY2012. The media have a big impact on us, proven in this case, but sometimes I am surprised how little we think for ourselves.

Have a look at this article from The Atlantic, isn’t this a more likely story? Notice the difference on headlines, pictures and intros. This type of “persuasion” was not provided in the mainstream media. Maybe it does not sell or is or is considered boring, but it is a more neutral way of journalism.

Is the media giving us just one page of a whole book? It looks like we receive different news-angles depending on where we are, or at least who we are. Consider how many news channels there are:

  • BBC news (UK)
  • CNN (USA)
  • Al Jazeera English (Qatar)
  • Russia Today (Russian Federation)
  • ABC World (Australia)
  • France 24 (France)

This is only to mention a few. Combined with TV, radio and other web-based broadcasters the list of channels to choose from is long. Now think about where they are located, are their audience the same wherever they are? Are their target-groups the same? No.

People from different parts of the world have different issues which concerns them. While the western world might be worried about education, third world countries are concerned about having access to clean water. This example is extreme, but it is just to demonstrate what I refer to. Media broadcasters tend to “tailor” news according to the listener. A news channel based in USA knows an Americans concerns and will present their news in a way that touches upon these emotions. Another channel from another country is doing the same thing, except there the news are presented from a different angle, touching upon the emotions from another group of people.

Al Jazeera English (AJE) is the sister-channel of Al Jazeera Arabic and their main goal is to give “a voice to the voiceless”. AJE actually portrays their own mission like this:

“Our mission is to provide independent, impartial news for an international audience and to offer a voice to a diversity of perspectives from under-reported regions. In addition, the channel aims to balance the information flow between the South and the North. The channel of reference for the Middle East and Africa, Al Jazeera has unique access to some of the world’s most troubled and controversial locations. Our determination and ability to accurately reflect the truth on the ground in regions torn by conflict and poverty has set our content apart.”

Last week when the western media reported on the KONY2012 issue it was with consideration to a western audience. By following the public on twitter, Facebook, blogs etc they could easily pick up what was of interest and therefore the angle portrayed was; The Invisible Children ask us for money, are their agenda legit? Where do our money go? Are we being presented with the whole truth? Western media promoted their audience to be sceptical because they were asked to give something from themselves.

AJE took interest in another audience, the Ugandan audience, which had a whole other concern. A charity group showed the KONY2012-video to earlier victims of Kony and they reacted with disgust. AJE’s news-angle was; The Invisible Children-campaign makes the worst nightmare of Ugandan victims famous. Why would victims of Kony wear a t-shirt with his name on it? They also launched the Uganda Speaks project which highlighted the Ugandan people’s voice.

These are examples to how media can shape the way we think about world-issues in the way they portray it.