The face that launched a million tweets

The social media world is abuzz with Joseph Kony and Sri Lanka was not immune to the upheavals. This week the Mirror Magazine inquires from youngsters whether this latest social media trend should be about issues closer to home
By Duvindi Illankoon

Joseph Kony, former Ugandan warlord and notorious war criminal, is at present the world’s most famous man. There is a video on YouTube (Kony 2012), a group on Facebook (Kony 2012 Sri Lanka), and a trending topic on Twitter (#kony2012) that is taking over my virtual life.

Social media has tapped onto its newest revolution and it all started with a YouTube video uploaded just last week titled ‘Kony 2012’.The video documents Kony’s crimes against humanity, and it has inspired a group of young Sri Lankan teenagers to form an advocacy movement that calls for his retribution. Say hello to ‘Kony 2012 Sri Lanka’, possibly the country’s first big social media revolution.

Don’t get me wrong, it seems like what social activists have been trying to achieve for years has finally been realized overnight-literally. It’s like one night the world (and I) went to sleep blissfully unaware of this issue and this man, and the next minute- we woke up with a bloodthirsty desire to see Kony’s head on a platter.

Joseph Kony, wherever he is right now, could at least find solace in his celebrity. A YouTube video about his many misdeeds has so far attracted over 70 million views. He is one of the most tweeted about personalities, and a growing clamour has begun for his arrest and detention by the international community.

Kony is not a new face to war crimes. In fact, he is one of the relatively older offenders. He is founder and leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a personality cult and militia he founded in the late 80’s. There are already multiple warrants issued by the International Criminal Court against Kony and his LRA commanders, including several counts of rape, abuse and mutilation. The group’s abduction and abuse of children as human shields and child soldiers stand out in particular.

The world had remained largely unaware of his existence until the release of the ‘Kony 2012’ video on YouTube by a group named Invisible Children. While drawing protests from the Ugandan people as to its accuracy (Kony and the LRA were forced into hiding some years back, and the people now live with relative peace of mind), the video went viral within days, shared by millions of youth across social media.
Josh Davis, 16, moved like many others to do his part for the campaign, quickly discovered the lack of a platform for Sri Lankan youth to take their stand. He responded by creating the group ‘Kony 2012 Sri Lanka’, a small group of 20 people that rapidly mushroomed into a group of almost 1500 young kids within a few hours. The group plans to kick start a massive awareness campaign about Kony and raise funds for the children of Uganda.

The young audience who have expressed their views in the boxed story (left) are divided on the movement, though they all believe that justice must be brought to a man who has eluded karma for far too long. To a world that despairs over mounting teenage immunity to real life events, this must come as a welcome surprise. After all, this is the age of social media, and this campaign has so far been fuelled by social media; which explains the massive awareness that has been raised among the youth so far. Many refer to the movement and the sudden spurt of interest in what is at best a random cause of w‘slactivism’ at work. While a select young crowd has personally taken it upon themselves to campaign and raise awareness and even funds for the cause, many have latched onto the bandwagon for the sake of being included in the hottest new trend.

After all is said and done at the end of the day- change starts on home turf. While the group’s young leaders have made impressive plans for awareness and fund raising, there are many youngsters who are of the belief that it is a smarter idea to utilize that energy and enthusiasm closer within thier own communities to initiate change and make a tangible difference. At the end of the day - passion; for the world we live in, the people who live in it, and what affects those people is of vital importance. After all, it’s one world. And it’s your world.

What the young have to say about ‘Kony 2012 ‘

Sri Lanka tuned in on March 7 when the video on Kony was shared and re-shared among friends on Facebook and Twitter. The following is what some of the youngsters had to say...

“The thing about this issue and the way people have responded to it,” explains Josh Davis 16 who began the ‘Kony 2012 Sri Lanka group. “It’s about people all over the world coming together. I understand that some people are against it; and believe that we shouldn’t interfere with another country’s affairs, but this is about humans caring about each other. It doesn’t matter that they’re from another country-it’s about us caring about our fellow brothers and sisters and taking a stand,” he says.
Shaveen Jeewandara, 19, disagrees. “I feel the whole Kony issue grew from the seed of baseless compassion, and fledged itself by tapping into the naïve corners of the young mind.

Although the enthusiasm and energy is amazing, I believe a reality check is due. Why not focus on our tiny island and get rid of our own Konys! A friend asked me, if I was so passionate about Sri Lanka why did I not make a video about Prabhakaran. I simply said, every single day was a literal live video feed to us Lankans. We didn t need to make videos or like statuses; we just needed an army that knew what should be done.”

The comparison to Sri Lanka’s own ethnic conflict and similar issue of child soldiers is a debate that often arises with the topic. The campaign’s supporters are often asked where their bleeding hearts were when Sri Lanka’s children faced a similar situation during the 30 year ethnic conflict. As Sulaiman Thawoos, 18, says, “It’s sad that no one bothered about what Prabhakaran was doing, but if we sit back and do nothing about Kony, that makes us just as bad, and there’s no difference between what they did and us.”

Laksheta Moorjani, 18 says “The whole Kony awareness thing is good, but it should have its limits. If the youth are so passionate, why don’t they start helping those children in the North who find it hard to get proper education, why don’t they look (for) the 5 Sri Lankans who were captured by pirates, why don’t they try generating money for their own family, their nation first? Like my dad always said, charity starts at home.”

Amalini De Sayrah, 20, finds it irritating that the youth of Sri Lanka are portrayed as ignorant and unconcerned. “It was mentioned on this group that if this Kony-related enthusiasm served no other purpose, it has succeeded in stirring in young Sri Lankans the desire to make a change. Allow me to highlight that the youth of Sri Lanka have always nurtured a passion for volunteerism and community outreach-they didn’t need a viral You Tube video to tell them that.”

Maleen Jayasuriya, 19, thinks we should learn to pick our battles. “Not to take away from the enthusiasm and passion shown by the Kony movement here in Sri Lanka; but this is time, energy, money and awareness that could be spent on more pressing issues closer to home.”

Shakya Wickremanayaka, 19, laughs at the hypocrisy of the situation at hand. “Funny. We don’t want other countries to get involved in our own country’s problems, but we’re all about pressuring them to poke their finger into another’s. Is it just me who sees the irony of the situation?”

Hamza Alibhoy, 18, questions the legitimacy of the awareness campaign’s plans to raise funds. “Will wearing a Kony tee shirt or putting up a poster really help end a war in Africa? Think intelligently, and make an intelligent decision.”

Jeremy De Zilwa, 19, believes in the campaign as well, but feels that the focus should shift from the man himself to the crimes he commits. “When we direct our energy to this issue, we have to be smart and target the people who honestly care, because it is a delicate matter, and we would do well to focus on what Kony does, instead of him.”

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