KONY 2012: What is the source of Integrity in a Social World?

By: | Posted in: Industrial Era / Social Era | Thursday, Mar 8, 2012 - 4:21pm

As I’m sure the vast majority of you experienced yesterday, Invisible Children (an NGO focused on ending conflict in Uganda) captured the attention of tens of millions of Facebook users yesterday (last count for the Youtube version of the video alone was 30 million views). I myself was moved not only by the worthiness of the cause and the passion and commitment of the activists but by what I saw as a true tipping point in the evolution of the use of Social technologies….and in our species understanding of how it organizes itself. What I saw in the KONY2012 video was the cleanest, clearest and most compelling active expression of one of the central themes I’ve been working with for a decade: what would a world look like that was organized not by social/organizational boundaries but by the inherent commitments of individuals. Prior to Facebook there was no medium for manifesting this*. Watching that video was a ‘moment’ for me; beyond the incredibly moving topic of the video, I felt a shift, I heard tumblers falling into place, I sensed something had just changed.

And then this morning I read ‘the other side of the story’. I read that only 31% of Invisible Children’s revenues from fundraising go to their charity program, that it may be exaggerating the scope of the situation in Uganda in order to make it’s case more compelling, that it seems to ignore the inconvenient reality that the Ungandan Army that it’s trying to get military support for is itself guilty of war crimes.

I’m not interested in this post in whether or not the criticism of Invisible Children is true or not. What I’m interested in is this:

What is the source of Integrity in a post-Social world?

I’ve said that the KONY2012 video was a tipping point…perhaps it was a different tipping point than what I initially saw/felt (or perhaps there were two tipping points happening in parallel). Perhaps KONY2012 was the best example to date of how easily unexamined group-think can spread in a socially connected world. The KONY phenomena raises questions about how we filter information going forward. In a Social world, we inherently grant trust to ideas (and products/services) that have no earned trust with us; i.e., we grant an idea/product/service trust because a ‘friend’ recommended it even though it has not earned our trust through either past experience with it or through the rigorous examination of ‘objective’, 3rd-party sources. This second part is critical: the Social and Connected world moves us further and further away from the world of the Expert, the holder of secret knowledge and special training. For all of the limitations that the voice of the Expert puts on our own voice, one of the things that Expertise allows for is Rigor. In the Social world it’s not that there are no Experts, it’s that everyone is an Expert, everyone’s voice has the same potential for amplification. So what happens in a Facebook world to the rigorous examination that leads to informed decision?

The Social and Connected world holds the promise of stripping away artificial/imposed barriers and shifting the core of power to the masses. Which then raises the question: are we ready to wield such power? Do we get the responsibility inherent in ‘sharing’?

What the collective did yesterday in having KONY2012 go viral was the equivalent of the executive leadership of an organization issuing a company-wide memo about a new initiative.

How much faith would we have in those executives if they had taken as little time as we did to educate ourselves on the issues before hitting the Share button? How responsible would we see them as being if they were guided solely by a compelling emotional plea and an insanely beautiful video?

I’m NOT suggesting that you should retract your support of KONY 2012; I’m suggesting that we have to quickly learn to use the power we are receiving wisely because whether or not this particular campaign is legitimate, we will be flooded by these things in the future and many of them will be far from what they seem to be.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some research to do about the long-term situation in Uganda 🙂


*About six years ago, two colleagues and I launched a company called Committed Conversations with the intention of creating a platform for such a world. We failed miserably because I was more focused on the ideal than the applications of the ideal, more focused on ‘build the playing field and they will come’ versus ‘go tell people about the new game’, which is one of the many things that the folks at Invisible Children got right.