A series of response videos featuring Keesey answering questions and criticisms have shown an earnest effort to convince skeptics of Invisible Children's goodwill -- and in particular, defend its finances. For the record, there is no evidence that Invisible Children is misusing donations, but it does spend about two-thirds of its budget on awareness and advocacy as opposed to projects in central Africa, a model it expects to continue, though it declined to commit to any particular spending breakdown going forward.
What does all this mean for all of the critics of Kony 2012? Were we gleeful naysayers looking for our own moment in the spotlight? Did our concerns amount to nothing more than, as the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof put it so lovingly (and without acknowledging a single legitimate critique), "the sneering scorn of do-nothing armchair cynics?" More importantly, what does it mean for results on the ground going forward?
I don't buy the argument put forward by some, like Time magazine's Alex Perry, that the net effect of criticism has been destructive. He writes that "worthwhile debate was drowned out by a wildly inaccurate, malicious online ‘takedown,' most of whose participants were utterly uninterested in truth but focused instead on a point-scoring, trashing and hurting."
First, of course, there were many who mindlessly piled on when the torrent of criticism of Kony 2012 exploded, or when Russell had his public breakdown. And yes, many misinterpreted the substance of critiques, bought into conspiracy theories about oil, and made crude jokes about Russell. That's what happens when you rocket to sudden prominence on the Internet.
Second, as Yale political scientist and development blogger Chris Blattman predicted early into the Kony 2012 madness, one of the best side effects of this phenomenon has been the volume and quality of substantive debate in the mainstream media about issues like the proper role of advocacy that usually don't make it out of development circles. The debate has also given a global platform to African voices who are all too often excluded from these debates.
Ugandan journalists like Angelo Izama and Rosebell Kagumire, as well as noted African writers like Teju Cole and Dinaw Mengitsu, have expressed their concerns with Kony 2012 and the way stories are told about Africa, bringing much needed detail and context to the debate.
For example, Izama, writing on the New York Times op-ed page Tuesday, noted one reason for discontent with oversimplifying Kony's evil: "The locals never forgot that Mr. Kony's nine lives were licensed by the politics of the posse that has been hunting for him." He argues that a regional political solution will be needed to end not just the LRA but the causes for it and other violent militias in the area.