The digital lies that Israel faces

Digital activists around the world have been raising their glasses this week to celebrate what has been labelled the internet's greatest-ever political success: the "Kony 2012" video.

The video, released by US activist group Invisible Children as part of a campaign to have Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony captured, has been watched over 100 million times since it went viral last week - and that was just the online effect.

At least a million Kony posters will be put up across America on April 20 and, last Tuesday, a resolution condemning him was introduced in the House of Representatives.

Initially, this appears to be a story about the power of social media to make the world a better place. Kony is responsible for mass-murder, sexual slavery, rape and abductions. He heads the most-wanted list of the International Criminal Court, which in 2005 indicted him for war crimes.

Imagine how an equally glossy 'Gaza 2012' video would play

Of course we should applaud this call for the world to unite in an effort to rid Africa of one of its greatest human scourges. But has the video really woken the world up to the complex problems of poverty, corruption and weaponry that face Africans today? Or have web-users simply embraced a tear-jerking video worthy of any Hollywood preview?

A glance at the high production values and seductive narrative employed by the video's creators points to the latter.

And while video soaks the Kony story in eat-me-up emotion, it presents a distorted picture of reality in central Africa. According to the Ugandan government, and contrary to what the video says, Kony is no longer in Uganda.

Those who already knew the story of Kony will ask themselves why his story should be picked up now: he has been wreaking havoc for the past 25 years. What's more, he is no longer a major threat having been hunted deep into inhospitable terrain by Ugandan and international forces.

The video gives the impression that Kony's guerrilla band, the Lord's Resistance Army, is still causing suffering on a huge scale, when in reality it is now far too small to inflict the horrors it once did.

None of these flaws would matter, of course, if this was yet another piece of flotsam on the information highway. The problem is that it has become an information juggernaut.

The success of the Kony 2012 video begs the question why no-one is being moved to 'do something' about President Assad's efforts to turn Homs and Hama into new Srebrenicas, surely a more urgent issue.

Could it be due to the fact that no-one has filled our Facebook feeds with must-watch videos that boil the issue down to 30 minutes of easy-watching?

The video has underscored the potential of social media to impassion millions of people on a particular topic in a short space of time - but it also demonstrates the dangers inherent in that process. This is a Marshall McLuhan moment - the issue has caught fire under its own digital momentum. The medium is the message and we click because everyone else is.

Imagine how an equally well-produced 'Gaza 2012' video might play. Twitter and Facebook have been the source of some of the most outrageous attempts to spread lies about Israel. Only this week a photo of a bloodied Palestinian girl, tagged as a victim of an Israeli bombing raid on Gaza, was launched into the Twittersphere. It turned out that the photo was of a Gazan girl emerging from a car accident, taken six years ago.

The desire to "do a Kony" on much-demonised Israel is clearly there. All it now takes is someone with the skills.

Orlando Radice is foreign editor of the JC

    Last updated: 11:55am, March 15 2012