The Problems with 'Stop Kony'

From the $2 million Oprah Donation to why Invisible Children, the filmmakers behind the campaign, supports the corrupt Ugandan Army, there are a few things you need to know before you donate to very viral Stop Kony campaign.

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Joseph Kony is an awful human being, and thanks to the charity Invisible Children, you may already know that by now. The filmmaking organization/charity has single-handedly created a wildly viral documentary, KONY 2012, which has garnered over 26 million views since Monday, March 5, become a trending hashtag on Twitter, and landed on the Today show.

The people behind the campaign are now being looked at more closely and unsurprisingly, they've now garnered their fair share of critics. Here's a primer on what you need to know about this week's viral charity meme:

So, wait what's #stopkony/Kony 2012? It's blowing up my Twitter feed, but I haven't watched the video yet. 

Good thing you asked.  The #stopkony campaign is a social media campaign bringing awareness to Ugandan Warlord Joseph Kony.  He uses child soldiers, loots, rapes....

Oh wow. He's pretty awful. 

Well, yeah. Usually warlords are. According to the Huffington Post, he's also a little bit crazy and there's some nonsense about consulting an Italian ghost who possessed one of his aunts. The Guardian reports:

He stands accused of overseeing the systematic kidnapping of countless African children; brainwashing the boys into fighting for him, turning the girls into sex slaves and killing those who don't comply. His forces are believed to have slaughtered tens of thousands of people and are known for hacking the lips off their victims. Kony has been wanted by the International Criminal Court since 2005 on charges that include crimes against humanity. He has been living in the bush outside of Uganda since that time.

Whoa. This man needs to be stopped. #stopkony is a good thing! Let's get Kony!

Not so fast. It's not a matter of being pro-Kony or anti-Kony. No one is actually pro-Kony in all of this (save for some of Kony's cronies). But there's the matter of him being Ugandan, this being an international human rights type of deal, etc.-- all of which makes it very difficult for individuals like your or me to accomplish something on our own.


Which is why the charity Invisible Children started #StopKony/KONY 2012 in the first place--to, in their words, raise awareness. They're a filmmaking company. Check out this video which they uploaded earlier this week. Did we mention the 26 million views on YouTube alone?

That's great. Go Invisible Children, go!

Again, it's not that easy. One of the big problems is that these guys...

Wait, who are these guys?

From the looks of their 990, the three guys paid on staff are Ben Keesey, Jason Russell, and Laren Poole (photo via Invisible Children's Facebook--one of our commenters notes that the photo features one Ben Bailey who helped found but is no longer at IC). There's also a more unfortunate picture on Vice which involves them holding giant guns.

So yeah, they kinda look like floppy-haired hipsters/surfer dudesbros.  What's the real problem? 

Well, it's their financials. As Vice's Alex Miller reported this is what their tax forms look like, and it's been circulating the internet:

And there's also the Cayman Islands bank account here:

How'd they get so much money? 

Well, Oprah did give them $2 million.

Well, all right. That's a lot of money, lots of revenue and a lot of expenses.  Don't most companies have that? And a Cayman Islands bank account isn't that nefarious... Mitt Romney has one! And if they're good enough for Oprah, they must be pretty great guys.

Yeah, for the most part. And it's super difficult to tell exactly what numbers mean because numbers, like statistics, are bendy like that. It's just that, well, look at these production costs:

And combine that with the $1 million travel bill:

It's led people to believe that more money is being spent on filmmaking than on the actual cause of helping Ugandan children. According to Visible Children, an anti Invisible Children blog, the company spent only 33 percent of its $8 million-plus in spending on "direct services." Some critics also point to Charity Navigator, which grades the transparency and financial earnings of charities, and Invisible Children's 2-star rating when it comes to "accountability and "transparency" (out of four).

And The Guardian reports that Invisible Children supports the Ugandan Army. That isn't good, because they also do plenty of bad things (arrests, torture, killings, etc.), says an expert at Human Rights Watch Africa.

Invisible Children also been accused of tampering with the stats they reported, inflating them. Foreign Affairs called it, "manipulated facts for strategic purposes."

So, what do they have to say about this?

Well, Invisible Children now has a post on their blog addressing the "critiques."  They explain the low Charity Navigator score (not enough people on their board of directors), the strategy to arresting Kony (it's hard to partner with anyone in Uganda who isn't corrupt), and have an infographic showing exactly where their money goes. They're also a charity and that means all of their financials are online for donors' perusal.

And ummm, so what now?

Well, that's up to you. The biggest criticism here isn't unlike what faced the Komen foundation earlier this year. It's a charity, it wants to do good things, but people are upset where the money is going and in this case, not knowing where all of the money is going. They also question if filmmaking is the best way to go about getting this done.

On the other hand, so many more people know about Kony than they did before, which is what they wanted and completely accomplished right?

It's up to you, but if you want to donate to Invisible Children, head over here.

Visible Children has their own list of charities, here.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.