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Nova Scotia blogger leads the online charge against Kony 2012 campaign

A video by the advocacy group Invisible Children has ignited controversy since it called for an international campaign against Lord's Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony.

When Grant Oyston posted a critique last week of a wildly popular online video urging the arrest of Joseph Kony for war crimes in Uganda, it went to just 30 friends.

Since then, his website Visible Children has attracted at least 2.3 million views.

From his student digs in Wolfville, N.S., Mr. Oyston has proven to be a thorn in the side of the Kony 2012 movement.

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"Social media can cut both ways," the 19-year-old Acadia University student said Tuesday in an interview.

"Millions of people around the world are now aware of an issue that they weren't before. The issue is … whether they have enough information about it to have the right decisions."

As his blog's fame spread, Mr. Oyston has had to juggle midterm exams in his global issues class with interview requests from news outlets including the BBC. He has also been invited to discuss his views Wednesday on MTV Canada in Toronto.

There's also the flood of e-mails, ranging from death threats to effusive praise, piling up.

Mr. Oyston said it began as he observed peers tweeting and posting on Facebook about the 30-minute Kony 2012 video by advocacy group Invisible Children – which includes a pitch for donations for a campaign to capture Mr. Kony.

Mr. Oyston said it bothered him that few of his friends were raising any questions about the campaign, and he started gathering various critiques and questions about the organization's finances.

He became one of the early online critics to argue that the video oversimplifies the 26-year-old conflict involving the Lord's Resistance Army and its leader, Mr. Kony, a bush fighter wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.

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Some media have reported that Mr. Kony's army now consists of a few hundred fighters and it is being gradually chased into obscurity by the Ugandan army.

Mr. Oyston's blog quotes an Invisible Children spokeswoman saying that 20 per cent of the funds go to salaries and overhead, 43 per cent to awareness programs, and 37 per cent to programs in Africa to help people.

"More money goes to awareness than to Africa," Mr. Oyston writes on one blog entry.

He also said since the Kony 2012 video surged in popularity, generating more than 76 million views on YouTube as of Tuesday, it still hasn't told contributors how its donations will be spent.

A New York-based public relations firm hired by Invisible Children said the group won't disclose how much it has raised to date because it is changing daily, but the totals will be disclosed when the campaign is complete.

"With all due respect, I think [Mr. Oyston's]criticisms and things he's written are important but are a little misinformed and naive," said Jesse Derris of Sunshine, Sachs & Associates.

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"We're incredibly clear that the campaign they've been running up until now are awareness campaigns in the United States in order to promote more advocacy so we can get the government more involved in Uganda."

Still, Mr. Oyston said he wants more information on where this year's funds will go.

"To be honest, I would really like to see them come out with what their goals are and come out with what they're planning to do with this new windfall," he said.

Mr. Oyston said his family was involved in charity and development work when he was a child. He said he has worked at summer jobs for CISV International, an international peace education organization, and plans to work in development when he graduates.

Meanwhile, he says he has learned that social media has its pros and cons when it comes to activism.

"It can be a great way to spread a message of awareness very quickly," he said.

"But unless it's used properly it can lead people to not do the research and not to have as thorough discussion as they otherwise would."

Mr. Oyston said he's not sure if he will continue blogging on Kony 2012, as he feels others with greater expertise have taken up his ideas and developed them further.

But he said he may weigh in on another issue in the future.

"I hope the social media continues to act as a watchdog for these stories."

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