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Invisible Children Kony 2012 Campaign

Lessons From Kony 2012: How to Critically Analyze Online Content

March 14, 2012 02:00 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 video has received criticism for being misleading and factually inaccurate. How can students properly evaluate its accuracy?

Lesson for Students: Evaluating the Kony 2012 Video

As students assess the Stop Kony 2012 video, they must bear in mind that they should never rely wholly on any one viewpoint, no matter how impeccable the credentials of the people who created it. All scholarly journals and newspapers contain “corrections” sections in which they acknowledge errors in their prior work. Even the most neutral writer is sometimes guilty of not being fully objective.

Thus, students must learn to take a skeptical approach to everything they read, see or hear. They must always verify important information by confirming it with multiple sources. The focus of this additional research must be on finding accurate information and forming a full picture of an issue, rather than confirming their initial reaction.

There are three questions that students must always ask when evaluating any content:

  • Who created it?
  • Why did they create it?
  • When did they create it?

The answer to “who” with respect to Invisible Children can be found in part on the organization’s website, which reveals that the top two officers of Invisible Children are filmmakers in their early 30s. Each has a college degree, but neither has solid scholarly or journalistic qualifications. The rest of the team is heavy with members devoted to public relations and outreach, but light when it comes to strong editorial and research skills. Thus, the organization, and the video itself, cannot be said to be an authoritative source on the subject of Joseph Kony, the LRA, and child soldiers in Africa. Thus, anyone wanting to gain a full understanding of the topic should find several authoritative resources about it.
The “why?” is often difficult to answer, particularly for young students who are not yet practiced in questioning motives. The difficulty of assessing "why?" doesn’t mean it should be tried; indeed, it makes it all the more important that students engage in such an exercise as often as possible. The Stop Kony 2012 video contains a prominent appeal for financial support: Invisible Children sells action kits for $30 each, primarily to support its operations. The fact that someone created a message in large part to raise money should always raise the level of a reader's skepticism.

In analyzing “when?” the content was created, it becomes clear that Invisible Children has been creating aspects of the video for many years; thus students must use the proper tools to examine the currency of the message. Google News, Yahoo News and Silobreaker are good tools for finding current information about any topic. However, as we note below, when a story becomes as widely covered as the Kony video has been, it helps to find sources that, while recent, were published before the topic became "hot news."

Lesson for Students: Finding Articles That Critically Analyze Kony 2012

With the recent explosion of information on this subject, it can be difficult to find authoritative educational resources about it. Once a story becomes wildly popular, every writer with an Internet connection seeks to add their two cents on it, primarily to attract a lot of eyeballs and generate advertising revenue. Search engines quickly become hopelessly clogged with thousands of copycat articles, many of them plagiarized from other sources.

Students can conduct a search that combines the keywords Kony 2012 with words that evoke skepticism, such as “evaluate,” “evaluation,” “real,” “really,” “fact checking,” “fact check,” “critic,” “critics,” “critical” and “criticism.” Student should not merely search “Kony” in combination with one of these words; they should search “Kony” with all of these words, one at a time.

For example, using the query “Kony 2012 fact check” in Google leads to results such as NPR's ‘Fact Checking The 'Kony 2012’ Viral Video.”

In addition to the keyword approach, students should use a news service, such Google News or Silobreaker. These services provide a loose gatekeeper role in scrutinizing the sources that they index. Students should also search a curated search engine, such as SweetSearch, which only searches resources that we have evaluated as credible.

This selective approach surfaces authoritative resources that may be buried in other search engines, such as a blog from the Guardian that has been curating criticisms of the video from the moment it reached the public consciousness.

Students should also try to find articles that have been written in the past few years about Joseph Kony or the LRA, before the topic became fashionable. These pieces may have been better researched and more thoughtfully written than articles that were written in recent days to take advantage of the public’s fascination with the topic. For example, at the end of January, Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson wrote an article that provides the political and military context on the LRA, Kony and the Ugandan military that many of the articles published after the Kony video miss.

To find such articles, combine “Joseph Kony” with dates terms, such as “2009,” “2010,” “2011” or, after completing a Google News search on “Joseph Kony,” find the portion of the left toolbar that enable you to specify a custom date range, and choose one that ends March 4, 2012, the day before the video was released. Alternative, you could use the NOT function to exclude any mention of Invisible Children, i.e. "Joseph Kony" -"Invisible Children" and most articles referencing Invisible Children will be eliminated.

Usually, when criticisms are leveled at an organization, it will respond with a rebuttal. In addition to considering a rebuttal on its merits, many people listen carefully to the tone and word choice to assess the sincerity of it. Invisible Children has responded, directly to the press and through another YouTube videos, to the charges levied against it.

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