Always Have the Bottle Ready: My Reflections on Yesterday’s Kony 2012 Panel

Foreword: This is not an analysis of the Kony 2012 campaign. These are merely some thoughts about a discussion that took place yesterday. For a richer discussion, turn to some of the people I’ve mentioned below, whom are smarter and better informed than I am on the issue and surrounding context.

Last night I was a member of a panel put on by a number of students at the University of Washington surrounding the “Kony 2012″ video put out by advocacy organization. The panelists included Assistant Professors Joseph Babigumira and Amy Hagopian from the School of Public Health, Fredrick Lorenz from the Jackson School of International Studies, Kristy Bolsinger from Ant’s Eye Media and myself.

Professor Babigumira presented a great overview of Uganda and the historical nature of the conflict, discussing the tribes in Africa and how power has shifted in the region in the past century. Lorenz followed with a discussion of the ICC and what an American “intervention” in the Kony conflict could look like. Professor Hagopian discussed her work in Uganda and what other interventions, ranging from medical training to government power, look like. To conlcude, Bolsinger and I talked about the nature of the video (her) and how the message was spread throughout the country on social media (me).

I pulled heavily from the coverage that SocialFlow and Ethan Zuckerman gave to the issue, discussing how social media can help engage audiences, help empower the audiences to engage with each other, and how ultimately the video did not go “viral” but instead moved through a semi pre-constructed network, as many have pointed out.

What I wished I had said to the group at large, but was ultimately said to a few individuals after the panel in response to their question, was when we consider social media’s role in conveying complex messages, things like tweets are analogous to tastes of wine at a restaurant. If someone offers you a taste of wine and then doesn’t have the bottle to provide you with, they are doing a disservice to their customer. Similarly, social media is an incredible tool to share snippets of ideas and messages with links, but if those links don’t ultimately connect us with the larger story, the organization spreading the message is doing a disservice to their audience.

It’s clear from Zuckerman’s writing as well as others that we need to not avoid complex issues, but that we do experience obstacles in trying to share them in bite-size bits. So please do encourage people to taste the wine, but make sure you have the bottle ready.

A big thanks to Mihae Jung, Kevin Solarte, Kaeley Pruitt-Hamm and the rest of the group that organized this event. It was well-attended and quite a pleasure to be at.

As a final note, I do not mean to use the wine metaphor as a way to say you should encourage your audience to get drunk with your message, but it happened to be one of the most appropriate metaphors that I had used in the conversation.

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