I don't know about you, but this week my Facebook, email and news feeds have been flooded with the Kony2012 video and the many pro- and con- reactions to it. I myself have watched the video and, albeit feeling it was over simplistic and a bit Hollywoodesc, I felt that it was clever as a tool to make people more aware of child-soldiers, war-crimes and the people responsible. Many people have criticised the NGO that made the video (Invisible Children-IC) because the video was overtly simplistic, relies on old facts, or because it once again portrays Uganda (and consequently Africa) as a place of conflict/despair/poverty/lack-of-solutions. Outraged, some commentators have brought up to the table the issue of colonialist-whites once again thinking that Africans cannot do anything for themselves and so the white people will once again solve everything. They criticise IC also because IC has some kind of action kit that you can buy and thus contribute with money for them, money that is nothing but a way of people feeling they did something.
Now, I'm not going to go into a discussion on what I think about all of the above allegations but I realised that most of the critics are focusing their sight on IC when they should maybe take advantage of the (I'm sure, brief) wave that all of this has created. It's like they saw a huge rock fall in their pond and are now all shouting at the rock and not very concerned with the waves and its effects. Ok, now, I'm being over simplistic, I know.
But it does raise the issue, when is a lot of awareness too much awareness? I started imagining the following scenario: a video would appear in the internet showing pictures of sick mothers, sick children, torn families, ineffective treatments, poverty and suddenly the Killer Mosquito and the scourge of Malaria would be presented as the culprits. The video would finish with a kit (composed of a t-shirt and a bracelet with the words "eliminate malaria") that you could buy from an (imaginary) organization and part of that money would go to lets say distribution of anti-malaria pills. Lets imagine that this made-up video was able to stir millions and millions of people on facebook and youtube and twitter and money would start being spent on those kits and millions of people would start asking the questions, what can I do to help? Why didn’t I know about malaria before?
We all know that the kit scenario is presenting a very simplistic approach/solution that would probably not be backed up by a proper evaluation of the distribution of, compliance and resistance to the medication (for example) and that certainly would need to be addressed. Now, would we as malariologists condemn this action? We probably would and we probably should. We want to make sure that things are done in a proper fashion. But would we fail to take advantage of the awareness generated towards malaria and let this die out to the sound of our criticism towards the (fake) organization that launched the video? Would we just be upset at the money not being spent on research or better yet on mosquito elimination and improving people’s sanitary and living conditions, or would we realise that if the video was not there in the first place we wouldn't have known that that money (and the concerned society from where it originated) was there in the first place?
In this fast-paced world of ours, where everything has to be bite-size and exciting and new, it is difficult to get people's attention, let alone explain something in detail to them. There are simply too many issues and too many concerns and not enough time. Videos that are overtly sensationalist and simplistic and even with traces of hero-like behaviour are expected to pop-up on the web from time to time. I believe though that we (the specialists of the targeted field) should take advantage of the awareness that they generate towards the issue at hand, point out the flaws of the proposed approach and then use that awareness to our advantage.
So, I propose that if ever a video about malaria brings up as much attention as the Kony2012 video did, we as a community should focus more on harnessing and redirecting the energy of the waves than on shouting at the rock.