As a social media nerd and a nonprofit worker with a heart for Africa, the past month has been fascinating. In that time we have witnessed the rise of the “KONY 2012” campaign and the fall of the mastermind behind it, Jason Russell.
On March 5th, an organization named Invisible Children launched an online movement to make Joseph Kony, a Ugandan war criminal and rebel leader known for his use of child soldiers, famous. The goal was to bring so much attention to him that governments would work together to bring about his arrest. Invisible Children produced a sleek thirty-minute video presenting this idea. The video went viral, racking up more than 86 million views.
However, not everyone thought the video was a good idea. (Myself included.) The Internet had a bipolar reaction. Many supported the campaign, posting links on Facebook and Twitter. Many others criticized the movement and the organization behind it.
The video featured Jason Russell, a co-founder of Invisible Children. Because of this, he came under personal attack. Sadly, the burden of this criticism was too much to bear. Suffering from ”exhaustion, dehydration, and malnutrition,” he had a nervous breakdown. Ten days later, he was detained outside of his home, where he was found nude, pounding his fists into the pavement and yelling profanities at the devil.
The Internet was quick to respond. He was mocked in every possible way. In fact, many of the top tweets were so offensive I do not feel comfortable sharing them here. To make it even worse, TMZ.com obtained a thirty-second video of his breakdown and posted it on their website. It went viral.
As much as I love social media, watching it all unfold broke my heart. For the past several weeks I have been reflecting on what happened. I am reminded of a passage of scripture, a verse in the Book of Romans that is often used to tear people down or make them feel like they are wrong. It’s Romans 3:23, which says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” In an odd way, I find encouragement in this.
I am not God. Neither is Joseph Kony or Jason Russell or Billy Graham or Mother Teresa or any other person that has ever lived. We have all failed. We have all fallen short of God’s glory. Why? Because we are all human. We are all capable of doing good and bad. We are complex.
It’s easy to forget that, especially on the Internet. It’s easy to hide behind a username or a hashtag and mock someone else’s shortcomings. It’s easy to forget their complexity. Social media has the power to make people aware of issues like never before, but it also has the power to dehumanize people.
A thirty-minute video can convince millions that Joseph Kony is completely evil and must be stopped. A thirty-second video can convince millions that Jason Russell is completely crazy and should be mocked.
It is important to remember our humanity and our complexity. We have all had moments of brilliance and moments of failure.
Joseph Kony, as evil as he may seem, was once a little boy in his mother’s arms. He had siblings. He played with them. He giggled. Has he done horrible things? Yes. But under all the wrong-doing, he is a human being.
The same is true of Jason Russell. Did he act in a seemingly insane way? Of course. But he is a human being. He is a husband and a father. He is creative. He put together one of the most engaging online campaigns ever seen. It’s because of him that we are having this discussion.
And me? Oh, I have had my moments, both good and bad. Thankfully, none of them have ended up on the internet. (At least, not yet.)
Am I suggesting that we pardon Joseph Kony or Jason Russell? No. I am suggesting that we take a moment and realize that we have all fallen short. You and me and all the other sinners and saints have that in common. Instead of immediately judging and posting our first reaction, let’s stop and remember our humanity. Let’s remember that we are all complex. No one is completely good or bad.
Then, out of that humanity, let’s learn to love one another, even on the Internet.
Chris Miller is a seminary student living in Merriam, Kansas. You can read more of his writing at Caffeinated Ramblings.
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