If you are on facebook or twitter, you have surely seen by now a lot of your friends becoming so called “activists” after watching a YouTube video about “Kony 2012″ and the Invisible Children organization.

What is Kony 2012?     

Kony 2012 is a short film created by Invisible Children, Inc.and released on March 5, 2012. The film’s purpose is to promote the charity’s “Stop Kony” movement to make indicted Ugandan war criminal and International Criminal Court fugitive Joseph Kony globally known in order to have him arrested by December 2012, the time when the campaign expires.

The film has spread dramatically. As of 30 March 2012, the film had over 86 million views on video-sharing website YouTube and over 16.6 million views on Vimeo with other viewing emanating from a central “Kony 2012” website operated by Invisible Children. The intense exposure of the video caused the “Kony 2012” website to crash shortly after it began gaining widespread popularity.

Who is Joseph Kony?

Kony is one of the world’s worst war criminals and the campaign is intended to make him famous — not to celebrate him — but to raise support for his arrest and to set a precedent for international justice.  Kony is the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which he founded in 1987, and he calls himself a prophet who claims to speak the word of God, prompting his followers to obey his every command and justify horrific acts such as the abductions and murder of children.

Why we should stop supporting Invisible Children

Invisible Children has been condemned time and time again. As a registered not-for-profit, its finances are public. Last year, the organization spent $8,676,614. Only 32% went to direct services , with much of the rest going to staff salaries, travel and transport, and film production. This is far from ideal for an issue which arguably needs action and aid, not awareness, and Charity Navigator rates their accountability 2/4 stars because they lack an external audit committee. But it goes way deeper than that. The group is in favour of direct military intervention, and their money supports the Ugandan government’s army and various other military forces. Still, the bulk of Invisible Children’s spending isn’t on supporting African militias, but on awareness and filmmaking. Which can be great, except that Foreign Affairs has claimed that Invisible Children (among others) “manipulates facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA’s use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony — a brutal man, to be sure — as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil.” He’s certainly evil, but exaggeration and manipulation to capture the public eye is unproductive, unprofessional and dishonest.

image: Kony 2012 by BradBethellPhotography cclicensed via Flickr