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We talk to San Diego-based Invisible Children about their online campaign and criticism about their organization

March 8, 2012 1:26 p.m.


Chris Carver, Chief Operating Officer, Invisible Children

Rebecca Nee, Assistant Professor, Journalism and Media, SDSU

Related Story: Invisible Children's Joseph Kony 2012 Video Goes Viral


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition, tens of billions of people around the world have seen a video released yesterday by the San Diego based humanitarian organization, Invisible Children. In the 30-minute long film, the group's founder, Jason Russell, outlines the case accused Ugandan war criminal, Joseph Kony, and details a world-wide mission to bring him justice. The quest for Kony is a compelling story, but so is the way this effort is being organized, through DIY international politics, and international media. Chris Carver is chief operation officer of Invisible Children. Become to the show.

CARVER: Thank you, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: I want to invite our listeners. I know many people have seen this video already. If they'd like to join the conversation about this viral video, give us a call: Let's start with a small clip. Here a member of the international criminal court and narrator, Jason Russell, and his toddler son, talk about stopping Joseph Kony.

NEW SPEAKER: The only way to tell Kony is showing him, we are going to arrest you.

NEW SPEAKER: What do you think we should do about it?

NEW SPEAKER: We should stop him.

NEW SPEAKER: The criminal here is Kony, stop him.

NEW SPEAKER: We should stop who?


NEW SPEAKER: It's obvious that Kony should be stopped. The problem is, 99% of the planet doesn't know who he is. If they knew, he would have been stopped long ago.

CAVANAUGH: That, a small clip from the Kony 2012 video that's gone viral, worldwide. You think you're up to about 50 million hits at this point?

CARVER: It's getting there.

CAVANAUGH: The purpose of this video is to make Joseph Kony the most well-known accused war criminal on earth and bring him to justice. Can you give us an idea for people that haven't seen the video what he is accused of?

CARVER: Sure. You're exactly correct on what the goal of the film is. Joseph Kony is accused by the international criminal court of crimes against humanity. He's the No. 1 indictee, he has been doing this for the past 26 years. He started in northern Uganda in -- and was there for a large portion of that, has now moved out of northern Uganda, and his top commanders and himself are somewhere in northern Congo, central African robbery, and south Sudan. We actually have Ugandan advocates out here in the U.S. that are all around the country right now, advocating for those Congolese in these communities that are being impacted right no.

CAVANAUGH: Joseph Kony is the leader of an organization called the lord's resistance army. And in this video, he is accused of some really atrocious war crimes, including kidnapping children. Tell us about that.

CARVER: Yeah, so there isn't really much economic interest behind Joseph -- or any economic interest behind him, any political interest. It was a way for him to refuel his troops. So he will go, abduct children, make them kill their parents, he will abduct girls and women to keep them as wives. It's a way for him to refuel his own movement.

CAVANAUGH: And the video says this has been going on for about 20 years.

CARVER: 26 years.

CAVANAUGH: Now, tell us about the Kony 2012 initiative. And why did Invisible Children decide this that 2012 is the year to apprehend Kony?

CARVER: Sure. So at the corner of what Invisible Children has -- where we started, it was started by three film makers eight years ago, and in the course of that time, we've made nine different documentaries. And what our model has been is to take those documentaries and take interns around the country, and tour them into schools. Depending on the campaign, it follows the most immediate need to help support the capture of Joseph Kony. So two years ago, we really lobbied for a unanimous bill that was passed in Congress that was the LRA disarmament bill. And last October, the White House issued 100 advisory troops to Uganda in the region to help support understanding how to actually capture him. So there has been a great deal of momentum toward capturing him. We need this to be the year. 2012 really needs to be the year because if it continues, there is the likelihood that the political support, are the financial support from the global community that needs to be there could wane and could go away. So this we believe is the year. And we believe that if he is abducted and the world doesn't know, then that's a loss for global justice ongoing. So we need an example for future criminals like this to know that if there's no economic interest or no political interests, there will be a large group of people that are global citizens willing to stand up and say this is enough.

CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Chris Carver, chief operation officer of Invisible Children, and we're talking about the viral video, Kony 2012. Claudia is calling from Chula Vista. Welcome to the show.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you for having me. And thank you, Chris, so much for making this video. It means so much to so many people. And my question is, who will be next? Because I know that after this movement, Kony will be captured and brought to justice. And I would like to know what will be the next step.

CARVER: We get that question a lot. And really, to be honest, I believe and we believe in focus right now. And we have to put all of our energy and focus in this one example. But that will be a great problem for us to address when this particular issue is complete.

CAVANAUGH: Okay, thank you for the call.

CARVER: Thank, Claudia.

CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, Chris, on the video -- you're getting a lot of people who love this, who are saying thank you for this, as Claudia just did. You're getting a lot of people and a lot of criticism from it. And I want to ask you a couple of questions about that. You suggest on the video, you suggest people donate and get a box of posters and things. And I'm wondering, was that really necessary? Was that really a necessary part of the video? Couldn't you just get out the word about Kony without having, you know, promoting and asking for donations?

CARVER: Yeah. We've tried this for eight years. This war has been going on for 26. And there is a large number of young people that want to do something. And we ask typically not always for money, we ask for three different things: Your time, your talent, and possibly your money. And there's many times when people can't necessarily give. But they can actually do something. And we wanted to build a campaign that will playoff of any one of those three. And if you can't purchase the kit, you can actually go online and print those posters off. We really need the world to know that he is the world's worst war criminal right now.

CAVANAUGH: We have a twitter question from Jennifer. Why has it taken so long for a Kony campaign to get started utilizing social media?

CARVER: That's a good question! Historically, with our media, like I said, we tour them into schools and we allow students to share the physical copies of this. Those documentaries that we've created are typically a little bit longer than this. We wanted to use the power of social media now along with our grass-roots movement. And we think what has happened is really the special sauce between the combination of both. And we think that one would only get us so far. But we needed both, and that's why we created this type of campaign.

CAVANAUGH: In the beginning of this video, Jason takes great pains to line out why you're promoting this, why you are making this -- and you want this to be an Internet sensation. And in 1 word, one sentence, he says there are more people on Facebook now than were Alive on the planet 200 years ago. And I think that aspect of it is also capturing people's imagination. What is it that you think can be accomplished by just releasing this video?

CARVER: Well, I think we're seeing it right now. And I think we'll continue to see the results. But it needs to be the positive support of the world, community, especially which there's no economic interest. When there's no political interest by the super powers of the world to actually stop this. So it's got to be the people. And the great thing in it, and the thing that we've always focused on the young people. The realty is, in DC and in largely influential communities, when you look at the subject, there's -- it's not a political issue. It was a unanimous bill passed in Congress. It's actually a human issue that everyone agrees on. It just needed the momentum to keep it in the public light.

CAVANAUGH: I want to take a short break. When we return, we'll continue our conversation about invisible children's Kony 2012 video. And we will be taking your calls. 1-888-895-5727. It's 12:18, and this is KPBS Midday Edition. (Break Taken)

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. My guest is Chris Carver, he's COO of Invisible Children. That's the San Diego-based organization that's released a video about accused war criminal, Joseph Kony, in Uganda. That video has now been seen by about 50 million people. And we are taking your calls on the subject. 1-888-895-5727.

There have been a lot of criticisms, as I said in the very opening. And I want to get to them bit by bit. One of the things that's not clear to me, however, is how you connect putting up billboards and possibly wearing bracelets with actually getting Joseph Kony to trial. Where's the connection there? How do you imagine that that happens?

CARVER: Sure. If you think about the sequence, we're thinking about this -- we want to create a permanent solution to stopping this. And when there's no economic interest, no political interest, the first thing is positive awareness. Then that actually puts pressure on our political leaders to actually invest time and money into doing the things that they need to do to actually apprehend somebody like this. And that is -- at DC, on a global level, all of that. Then through that, we need to be able to take that story one-on-one. The and we take that into schools. From there we need to go directly to the front lines of this where rebel group is operation and help those communities that are being torn through today. And so what we do is we're building and expanding an early-warning radio network so that the local communities can at least radio the next community that the rebels are in the area. So that takes a lot of time, a lot of energy, a lot of resources. And then the next step is when there are defections out of this rebel group, when kids and women come out, there's no rehabilitation for them. So we've built rehabilitation centers, we're building those. And then the reality is, it's a regional issue. So in northern Uganda, we're focused on taking a portion of our own money and rebuilding schools. We have 1000 kids that are in secondary school through scholarships, they have a mentor that they meet with each week. We also need -- because education is key to rehabilitating the region. We also believe in investing in microeconomic programs. So it's a comprehensive solution that starts with awareness.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Invisible Children has, as you say, on the ground in Africa kind of aligned itself with the Ugandan army and the Sudanese liberation army who are fighting Kony. But both groups are also accused of the use of child soldiers and rape. How do you defend that appliance?

CARVER: Well, appliance is a little strong, I think. We support all of the countries that are trying to apprehend him. And it is a regional, global effort.

CAVANAUGH: There's a picture, though, of some guys from Invisible Children holding weapons with members, I think it's the Sudanese people, liberation army. Of so that's something like an alliance.

CARVER: Sure, if you want to call it an alliance, then we have an alliance with every global group that's focused on apprehending Joseph Kony. It's the State Department, the White House, the Republican party that actually supports, the Democratic Party, it's the UN, it's U.S. aid, all of those groups. Our focus is apprehending Joseph Kony and bringing him to justice, and the reality is it's just like any global issue. You have to continue to talk to all of the parties involved.

CAVANAUGH: Now, there's also criticism that the fact that your group doesn't use a heck of a lot of money that's donated to build schools shown on the video. About 30% or so?

CARVER: We have a very interesting model. Our model is different than a typical nonprofit that says they put their money to whatever it is. We believe in three things. And we're totally open about it. And this is what we believe is causing the world to respond to this particular issue, that for years was going on unseen. We believe in media, the power of media to change lives. And we're seeing that -- change in students here in the U.S. and we've hit millions. And you can go see the interns that are spreading the word. And that takes resources and time and money, and that is key, right? Then you actually have to take it throughout the country. And you actually have to go into schools. So that creates a ton of transportation costs, a ton of product costs, things like that, to get young people really excited about an issue. And then you have to look at all of the comprehensive things that I talked about on the ground in Africa, in traveling there, in making sure that those things are being put in place, but we have a staff of 95 Ugandans in Uganda that are doing everything from finance to being local mentors, they have all of the transport. So those are all things that we're doing. We're also in the most remote place on earth at the front lines doing what is now an award-winning website, the LRA crisis tracker, that nobody else was doing. We believe that those three things are absolutely necessary in going after a war criminal like this. And we stand behind that model.

CAVANAUGH: There are so many people to want that talk to you. Justice a couple more things about your finances. There's criticism that you won't allow an independent audit. Is that true?

CARVER: No, we actually have an independent auditor. And we have had it for -- since the inception of Invisible Children.

CAVANAUGH: And there's also accusations that you and Jason Russell and top executives of the group make big salaries like $90,000; is that right?

CARVER: Sure. Yeah, it is correct for myself. For me personally, I went to Kellogg, I was a -- I worked here at a software firm for ten years. I believe in bringing in the best talent to actually get this job done, and sometimes that actually takes the type of investment in certain people to do that. But we're completely transparent with all of our financials, and we're happy to talk to people about that.

CAVANAUGH: I want to get to the phones because there are so many people on the line. Bob is calling from mission bay high school. Hi, bob.

NEW SPEAKER: Hello. Well, I appreciate you taking me early. The impact here on mission bay high school is very large. All of a sudden I've got students that are hanging up posters and asking me if I can help promote the -- your program on campus.

CARVER: Thank you very much, Bob. That's amazing to hear of. The great thing is is there are thousands of schools around the country that are just like you, so we really appreciate you supporting those students, and at any point, please bring your students down to our office, maybe not in the next day or so, but we'd be happy to show you guys around.


NEW SPEAKER: We have a little on-campus live TV show, and we've knot students doing like broadcasts on it, they want to do video segments the next week and the following week to broadcast it to our campus. So these kids are really motivated. Of I think it's a great cause.

CARVER: That's awesome, thank you.

CAVANAUGH: I just wanted to make the point that the rating service charity navigator has said that you will not allow an independent audit. So they've got that wrong?

CARVER: Yeah, so we've actually had an independent auditor for years. That was something that we hadn't updated. It is now updated. It take, like, six months to update that. And I'm completely open and we're all completely open about that.

CAVANAUGH: Now, one of the things, another one of the criticisms of this video is that indeed it does not link the idea of awareness to actually how the capture of Joseph Kony is going to happen. There are U.S. military advisors now in central Africa trying to help forces in the area neutralize and perhaps capture Joseph Kony. Does Invisible Children want more U.S. military personnel involved?

CARVER: Yeah, I mean, we want resources involved. So transport, transportation resources, whatever it takes in many cases. So if that takes more people, then I support that.

CAVANAUGH: So you would support more of the U.S. military intervention in central Africa to look for Joseph Kony?

CARVER: Yes, to apprehend Joseph Kony, I would.

CAVANAUGH: Now, I want to bring in, if she is on the line, Rebecca Nee, assistant professor of journalism and media studies at SDSU. Are you there?

NEE: Yes, I am, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much for doing this. I really appreciate it.

NEE: No problem.

CAVANAUGH: We just heard from Bob, calling us from Mission Bay High School. Where did you first hear about this Kony 2012 video?

NEE: Well, it's so interesting that you ask. I teach a class called media technology in the global environment where we look at how social media and other digital technologies are impacting global trend, global causes, being used by companies to further global causes. And I assign my students, more than 70 in the class, to do a case study, and they had to divide into groups yesterday morning. And all of a sudden, they were clamoring to do Kony! Kony! Invisible Children! And I had not even known yet that this video had gone viral. But I was just so surprised, and I did some research and saw that the first place they were finding out about it was Facebook. And I think it's an interesting phenomenon in a lot of ways because I think that celebrity involvement played a factor definitely in getting this out. People from Rihanna to Justin Bieber, Oprah, Taylor swift, each of those have millions of followers or at least cumulatively they do. But then I think also the negative campaign against Invisible Children gave them more visibility, actually. Some of my students were saying, yes, I saw a picture posted on Facebook from the counter campaign, and then it made me interested to do my own research. So that maid a role as well.

CAVANAUGH: I'm interested to hear, what was your reaction as a professor of journalism and media studies?

NEE: To the fact that this has gone viral?


NEE: Well, I think it's certainly interesting because of those factors that I mentioned. Invisible Children has been around several years, and I never had my kids, my students, want to do a case study about them. So it was interesting to me, what were the factors that contributed to this? Certainly the video being posted on YouTube, a team came out with a report yesterday that said more than 1 hundred million Americans are watching online video a day now. Nine out of ten Internet users are visiting a social networking site with Facebook dominating. So I think the time is definitely bright for social media campaigns. And this topic seems to be appealing to young people in particular, and young people are the ones on social media as well.

CAVANAUGH: Do you think there are downsides though to basically marketing a hunt for justice in this way?

NEE: Well, I think it could be certainly construed as such. And I think some of the criticism, while I'm not going to weigh in on whether it's valid or not, I think people need to do their research. And that's what my students say they are doing, that they heard about it, they thought it was interesting, they wanted to get both sides, they're looking into it, and I think that's what we all need to be doing as consumers of social media. Because topics can arise so quickly and go viral so easily without people really paying enough attention to what really is happening here and what is the cause, and if I do donate, where is the money going? Those are all good questions that need to be asked. And many companies that are using social media to do cause marketing, that's called cause marketing globally, to further a cause, some of them have been criticized for just promoting their brand, just trying to use that to promote their brand. So I do think today's consumer is very wary and prefers to do their own research in these causing.

CAVANAUGH: Let me go to Olivia, waiting on the line in San Diego. Welcome to the show.

NEW SPEAKER: Yes, hi. I'm just calling because I had come across that video on Facebook, I didn't click the link. My daughter asked if I've seen it on Facebook, she told me, you got to look at this. So she started explaining it to me. So I went back, made it a point to watch it. And to me, I am very impressed at the way that it's bringing this awareness to children of middle school, high school, and just reaching across to them and getting it across to open their eyes as to what's really going on across the world and how they can at some point help and kind of join in on this movement and possibly do something that's positive. And that's really what has affected our household.

CARVER: That's exactly correct, Olivia. The we believe in the power of young people. They are more powerful than they actually think they are. And they are responding because they get it. They get how connected the world is now. And when something negative happens to somebody across the world, we know in an instant. And they now become friends with those people. And I would agree with the previous caller, please do your research. Don't just listen to some little blog that's out there, and there's plenty of them. I just ask that you do your research. I would hope that you look at our model as something that's a comprehensive model. But it clearly is doing what it was meant to do.

CAVANAUGH: Let me say thank you to Olivia. And also ask Rebecca Nee, I'm wondering, is there do you think a generational gap in acceptance of this video? Because you know, there's been a lot of criticism from pundits, you know, from people who usually have their finger on international politics, and do you think there's something that people who are perhaps not in Chris's generation and younger might not get about this whole thing?

NEE: I'm not sure. I think some research into this counter campaign has to be done before we could really make that leap.


NEE: The only person I was able to track as far as being responsible for the counter campaign was actually a college student in Canada. So I'm not quite sure that it's generational. I think there's just -- I suppose some suspicion. But I don't know that we can make that generational leap yet.

CAVANAUGH: Gotcha. Okay. And Chris, if I understand correctly, a lot of that pushback campaign from that college student in Canada is all about the idea that this is a rather paternalistic attitude toward the people of Africa. Here you have people from the west coming in once again, trying to solve the problems of Africa. And it just really is sort of distasteful and not really something that's going to work.

CARVER: Sure, and I can see that as an initial reaction when you just watch the video. The reality is our coworkers in Africa are leading the charge on owl of our programs over there. They are over here advocating for their neighboring countries. So it's -- like the caller said, be please do your research. The blogger up in Canada has detracted a lot of his statements because we were able to give him a little bit more information. Just do your research and hopefully you'll be able to look further into some of our other films, even. Because it is now becoming a global community. It's not about us solving somebody else's problems. It's about helping those that necessarily can't help themselves when it comes to immediate response need, when it comes to abduction, when it comes to killing, when it comes to rape, things like that. And that's why I think young people are standing up and saying it's enough.

CAVANAUGH: Are you afraid, Chris, of any downsides to this? You must have talked about that within the group.

CARVER: Sure. The one thing I would say is this is not just a western thing anymore. It's actually over 200 countries are actually supporting this. It's no longer just the west. It's become an international topic. And we hope that it continues. It is all about the young people that are pushing this out. Did we talk about the downside of this? We did. And that's why we spent a lot of time trying to refine the film, and trying to educate those interns that are out telling the story. That's why we try to do continual media to educate our own audience. We want to be as visible as possible. We have nothing to hide. The agenda is on the box, you know?

CAVANAUGH: What happens if December 2012 comes and goes and Joseph cone Kony is still a freeman?

CARVER: We believe it will be a loss for future global justice. We'll continue to come up with our campaigns and we'll continue to mobilize the world the best way we can until this is actually stopped. And we believe that the rest of the world -- at least the students of the world will support us in that. And this is only the beginning for how global justice in this manner is going to change.

CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with Chris Carver, chief operational office of Invisible Children, and Rebecca Nee, assistant professor of journalism and media studies at SDSU. Thank you both very much.

CARVER: Thank you.

NEE: Thank you, Maureen.

CARVER: Thanks, Rebecca.