Much has been said about the questionable tactics of Invisible Children, the advocacy group whose video on Joseph Kony’s Lords Resistance Army dominated the news cycle recently. While some lauded the organization for spotlighting Kony‘s wave of guerilla conflict atrocities, others harshly criticized Invisible Children for playing fast and loose with the facts on the ground. Even worse is the charge that the video perversely undermines the cause of bringing Kony to justice, rather than advancing it.
The problem from a PR perspective goes like this. If your advocacy campaign peddles half-truths, misconceptions, exaggerations, and is factually ignorant, you are bound for PR failure. Issues campaigns can’t claim altruism and simultaneously bulldoze a fake message by assuming the end justifies the means. If you don’t agree with that premise, just imagine the news headlines for future Invisible Children campaigns:
“Controversial group releases new video with questionable claims …”
“Fact-challenged organization launches new campaign against alleged tyrant …”
“Disputed CEO once again defends latest advocacy effort on child warfare …”
You can see the pattern here. Not only has Invisible Children hindered its own long term goals by warping the facts presented in its anti-Kony campaign, it’s done something substantially worse to like-minded organizations. Every future villain targeted by similar multimedia advocacy efforts now has a straw man to bash away at: “I am not a warlord/child trafficker/international scumbag — after all, the group accusing me is using the same dishonest Invisible Children playbook.”
Lesson for all high-minded groups: stick with the actual facts. They’re often more compelling than the exaggerated alternative (and you ultimately won’t need to devote a ton of real estate to explaining how your own house is in order).