Seeing through the “digital gloss”, the fine line between propoganda and social activism in a digital world (Kony 2012)

We live in a digital world where everyone has the opportunity to be a creator and where we are all consumers of information. Aside from the occasional paywalled website, information is free and accessible by all in a variety of formats.

This last week a video entitled “Kony 2012” has gone viral and sparked a debate. The debate though has gone off in two tangents; one about the issue it was meant to look into, ie a war criminal, human rights abuses and child soldiers; the other about how charities and campaigns use new media and the internet and whether they should tell us how to think or what to think?

Being critical of media especially online media is a skill and is an important one for children to learn. Of course many adults haven’t mastered this either which I can judge by the number of chain mails and scams I still receive from people who think they need to forward them! But in the world we live having the critical skills to see investigate, summarise and make up your own mind are more important than ever.

More than one subject in UK schools already tries to do this: English devotes time to learning about the media and seeing different perspectives, geography, history, citizenship and RE all spend time looking at different opinions, controversial issues and propaganda and of course science and mathematics look at how to analyse data and draw conclusions. When is comes to analysing digital media it is often IT teachers who end up with the responsibility. When I taught ICT we spent around two weeks either in year 7 or year 8 looking at how you could trust websites and the information on them. Children were delighted by the absurdity of Dog Island and the British Stick Insect Foundation but the internet has moved on a long way since then. Digital literacy, including being able to look critically and evaluate online materials and is a key skill and too often falls in the gap between subjects. Wherever it does fall there is also a need for teacher training on how to deal with controversial issues which is not something many teachers are comfortable with regardless of their level of subject knowledge.

One organisation that does tremendous work on dealing with controversial issues surrounding religion is the Three Faiths Forum

It was Debbie Danon, a friend who I have collaborated with on a few workshops and projects who brought this issue to my attention and I’ll finish by sharing her initial thoughts along with a group of her resources that may be of use to teachers or anyone interested in this issue.


Say what you like about Invisible Children’s The Kony 2012 Campaign, people are talking about it like crazy. About Kony’s heinous crimes, and the need for him to be brought to justice, yes. But let’s also zoom out to observe the power of shiny, youth-focused media, aiming to unleash Youth Activism 2.0. The film implores young people to ACT on the basis that they already have all the FACTS they need. I wonder how many young people will have looked elsewhere to verify the facts offered in the film before sharing/posting? Even when propaganda is for a good cause (and let’s admit, this is a propaganda film), shouldn’t we engage with it critically? Whether a little more research turns us off a campaign, or strengthens our resolve to get involved, I can’t help but feel that little time would not be wasted.

I’m not saying I don’t believe in IC’s cause, but justice and development issues are complex. So in the name of complexity, here’s the IC film; the blog of a critic; IC’s official response; and an awesome online project “Digital Disruption” which helps young people identify and understand propaganda online. And I say to myself…what a complexified world!

The Film and Website at

A critique of the film

Newspaper article critique

Responses by the charity

Excellent Channel 4 Blog on the issue

Digital Disruption Website, resources and lesson plans for use in the classroom on these kind of issues

Published by D Needlestone


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