20 June 2012

A Kony 2012 Satire Succeeds in Getting Attention, Falls Short on Engagement

Invisible Children (IC) are upset with the parody of their Kony 2012 by a bunch of NYU students on the website called 'Kickstriker.' Spencer Ackerman covers the story in Wired's Danger Room and includes excerpts of the cease-and-desist letter that makes it clear the advocacy group is not OK with the satirical website.
“It has come to our attention that you are causing public confusion through your use of Invisible Children’s copyrighted and trademarked property on www.kickstriker.com. This impermissible use is a blatant and egregious infringement of Invisible Children’s valuable copyright and trademark rights,” reads a letter Invisible Children sent last week and acquired by Danger Room. “[F]ailure to cease and desist your unlawful use of Invisible Children’s intellectual property will result in legal action.”
The founders of Kickstriker, a blatant tip of the hat to Kickstarter, are not willing to back down. They cite fair use for being able to reproduce the IC images and information. A quick look at the page (seen below) can fool the unknowing user. However, when the pledge opportunities increase and a would-be supporter can receive Kony's teeth or even his skull for a cool million, it becomes apparent that this is a hoax.

If that doesn't work, clicking on the "Back this Project" button will launch a page that tells the users:
Kickstriker is a hoax 
Kickstriker is a satirical website. If you were horrified by the content on this site, we hope you will consider making a contribution to one of the following charities: 
Reprieve: Reprieve uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve is one of the leading organizations working to draw attention to drone strikes.
African Youth Initiative Network (AYIN): The AYIN works to physically and psychologically rehabilitate youth affected by war in Uganda.
The Tibet Fund: The Tibet Fund is dedicated to helping Tibetans improve their lives and preserve their distinct cultural, religious and national identity.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU): The ACLU's National Security Project advocates for national security policies that are consistent with the Constitution, the rule of law, and fundamental human rights. The Project litigates cases relating to detention, torture, discrimination, surveillance, censorship, and secrecy.
All in all, it is a rather clever way to point out the consequences of advocating and cheering on a military solution to the problem of the LRA. Some may be upset that it carries it too far, but the point of satire is to push the boundaries while remaining within the constraints of a given subject area.

What is most interesting is this final section from Ackerman's article:

Even though Kickstriker plans to contest any actual legal action Invisible Children may bring, as a parody, it’s kind of tapped out. “It was designed to be a one-off, self-contained sort of thing,” Jayasuriya says. Although it got media attention, “we had all hoped that the site would kick off a conversation about the ethics of crowdsourcing, privatized warfare and clicktivism and that still has yet to happen.”

Hmm, kind of like Kony 2012, you might say.
The comment from Mehan Jaysuriya, one of the NYU students responsible for Kickstriker, is worth highlighting. Specifically, because Ackerman is right to point out that the lack of meaningful conversation coming out of Kickstriker is exactly the same criticism leveled at Kony 2012.

I argued, with some push-back, that Kony 2012 failed because it did not maintain the same level of audience from the first video to the second. The lack of support for the public campaign only seems to have confirmed my declaration of failure. But this has little to do with IC or even Kickstriker.

The fact that IC is worried about the Kickstriker site confusing supporters seemingly indicates that the group is aware that its audience has a very low understanding of the issue at hand. IC would never advocate for what is depicted on Kickstriker. Yet, it is concerned enough that people will not realize that a website that celebrates the killing of Joseph Kony is not connected with IC.

Such a problem illustrates the challenge of engagement to the point that people understand the issue at hand. The well produced and told video was seen by 100 million people, but how many left with any understanding beyond the fact that Kony is a bad man and he must be stopped? How many of those people know more about Kony, the LRA, and Uganda in the three months since the video's release?

The question if online-based campaigns can lean to a long term engagement is brought up yet again. Thus far, the theory seems to outweigh the evidence. I actually think there is good reason to be excited by the potential for connecting with and reaching more people. However my concerns are if the point of entry is too shallow that a campaign manages to miss the pool entirely.

Maybe that is not the point. The sheer buzz around Kony 2012 can be credited to some extent for moving the needle on the issue of the LRA. Little policy has changed, but getting politicians to not only remark on it but work on legislation in response to the problem is quite the accomplishment. But the same can be said for the Darfur movement which by many accounts fell well short of its intended goals.