Narratives of Africa in a Digital World: Kony 2012 and Student Perceptions of Conflict and Agency in Sub-Saharan Africa

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Kony 2012, a film released by the nonprofit Invisible Children in the spring of 2012, drew a flurry of Facebook “shares” and “likes.” However, critics expressed a concern that the film offered a distorted portrayal of Africans and African politics. In this article, we test these criticisms by asking what effects the film had on college students’ perceptions of Africa and Africans. To address this question, we draw on a survey and an experiment conducted at a small liberal arts college where Kony 2012 enjoyed popularity. The results show that the film did affect students’ perceptions of Africa; specifically, it led many to perceive Africans as lacking agency and autonomy. We argue that whereas the film did have initial negative effects on students’ perceptions of Africa, these effects seem to fade over time. Future research should explore the compounding effects of exposure to images that misrepresent the African continent.


© American Political Science Association 2014