Are half-truths more important than fact?

Two weeks ago, links to the “Kony 2012” video and calls to action from different corners of the world dominated my Facebook feed. I, like 83 million other people, watched the YouTube video, but, unlike many, I did not have the reaction Jason Russell, the Invisible Children charity co-founder and filmmaker, had hoped for.

Yes, I am horrified by the atrocities caused by Kony and the LRA. The “Kony 2012” video tells a compelling story and successfully plays on our emotions. Public outrage always rises when vulnerable groups of society are impacted; no group is more vulnerable than innocent children. For many, the video was their first exposure to the story of Joseph Kony.

I understand my friends’ desire to respond and to help. But, my immediate reaction was quite different. How do the local people in Uganda feel about the release of the video? More importantly, how do they feel about someone else telling their story and trying to rally complete strangers behind a solution they may not agree with? My reaction was not out of any premonition of the backlash that lay ahead, but based on personal experience.

I grew up in a country troubled by war, but was fortunate to travel. I listened to people offering well-intentioned but misguided solutions to the problems. Everyone had an opinion, even though they had never set foot in the country. Their opinions were shaped by hearsay or media coverage that often portrayed extreme views on both sides; they did not reflect the feelings of the vast majority of innocent people. Frequently, increased scrutiny from outside seemed to escalate the violence.

Sure enough, the response I expected came several days later. I cannot pretend to know what the Ugandan people have been through, or the true motives behind this video, but I can empathize with some of the feelings expressed by Anywar Ricky Richard, especially regarding the call for military action.

In the communications arena, we cannot simply impose our ideas on others. We have a responsibility to gather the facts and to include our stakeholders in the conversation. In my opinion, Jason Russell failed on both accounts. The misrepresentation of the facts and lack of consideration for local feelings angered the people he claims he wants to help, It also damaged the credibility of the Invisible Children charity and threatened the emerging Ugandan tourism market.

Two days ago, Amama Mbabazi, the Prime Minister of Uganda, released his own video to reframe the story and reestablish Uganda’s reputation as a relatively safe nation. With only 81,000 viewers, is society more interested in half truths than straight journalism and facts?

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