In this din of information overload today, when “going viral” is the goal, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to let the facts stand on their own. It becomes tempting to let ethics slip and embellish or overly simplify the facts, especially with easy-to-use editing programs just a few clicks away.
This dilemma was apparent with the viral Kony 2012 video, the 30-minute film about Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, which has now been viewed over 84 million times. The video was a quick and, as many have claimed, oversimplified attempt to engage today’s youth in caring about human rights abuses in Africa – as well as supporting the advocacy group Invisible Children. As Christine Cupaiuolo wrote at Spotlight on Digital Media and Learning, “[Kony 2012] mixes up timelines, acknowledges only the IC’s own efforts to bring Kony to justice, and aims more for viewers’ hearts than heads.”
Amid the hullabaloo surrounding the Kony video is a reminder to parents and educators that kids still want to get involved and care about their world—but they might need some help in sorting things out. Shira Lee Katz, director of digital learning for Common Sense Media wrote, “The “Kony effect” is clearly cause for celebration on one hand. What parent doesn’t want kids who are informed and take action to eliminate social injustices? The rub lies in the way that kids carry out this new breed of online activism and how they evaluate the merit of campaigns that can be produced by anyone, anywhere.”
Katz brings up a good point, and it is important that educators and parents continue to play an integral role in teaching children what words like “slactivism” and “clicktivism” mean, how to identify underlying agendas, and the other steps they can take to support a movement other than clicking “like” and “share” buttons on Facebook.
In starting a conversation about Kony, Katz suggests checking in with younger kids to assess their level of understanding on complex issues. She also suggests debunking the good guy/bad guy dichotomy and reassuring kids that they’re safe, because dramatic news footage could raise fear in a young child.
For older children, it is important to ask critical thinking questions. Katz suggests questions like, “Who made the video? What are their objectives? Is the information well-researched?” She also asks parents to celebrate their children’s civic engagement and encourages them to sit down and watch the next video they might want to share.
The New York Times’ Learning Network also published a more in-depth curriculum for educators, outlining ways to make Kony 2012 a teachable moment inside the classroom. Times reporters Sarah Kavanagh, Holly Epstein Ojalvo, and Katherine Schulten suggest first taking a survey to gauge how much knowledge students have about the Kony video, as well as the Lord’s Resistance Army and its history of occupation in Africa. They also suggest showing actual photographs depicting the impact of the militia on the native people.
The curriculum provides pointed questions to ask students and applies the lessons of Kony 2012 to different school subjects, such as history, geography, and language arts. It deconstructs the situation in Uganda, the criticisms behind the video, and draws connections to other recent campaigns, such as the outcry against the Komen Foundation earlier this year, and defines what makes an online campaign successful.
One of the most important things to remember when it comes to teaching children about these multifaceted, and often politically based, memes is to not only equip them with the tools to identify credible information, but also to refrain from sugarcoating the truth. Kids have the right to know about the world around them and, as Katz said, “Ask them questions about what they know, and don’t be afraid to lay out some facts and a basic storyline.”