Death by twitter

One of the many criticisms of the Kony film was that it was factually inaccurate. I’ve got to admit I never watched the film through because the boss made me turn it off (he couldn’t stand Jason Russell’s voice).

As it turned out though the film itself was not as inaccurate as much of the criticism surrounding it. Infact, although overly simplistic, apparently the film isn’t factually inaccurate at all.

A couple of hours ago the news broke that Jason Russell had been detained by police. A twitterstorm erupted in which it was alleged that Russell had been masturbating in the street, half naked, under the influence of alcohol, and probably other narcotic substances, whilst vandalising cars.

All this information was attributed to a named police officer, although very little of it came from direct quotes.

The Guardian and many other news outlets tweeted that Russell had been arrested.  Kind of delicious for the critics of the Kony film, seeing as the film is about getting Kony arrested.

But hang on, at no point it seems did the police ever arrest Russell, nor does it appear they ever claimed they had. He was detained for his own safety after showing signs of severe mental health problems.

Of course the big thing that has killed Russell off is the suggestion that he was wanking in the street. It goes without saying that no child centered charity can be headed up by a guy caught tossing himself off to the passing traffic. It’s this revelation that in matter of a couple of hours has killed Russell off. Death by twitter. The same tool that made him famous (twitter) has slit his throat.

But I’m wondering if this part of the story is even true?  To date there are no first hand witnesses quoted anywhere that he was tossing himself off in the street. The whole stength of the allegation rests on this comment by a police officer as reported on the BBC:

San Diego police spokeswoman Andra Brown told AFP news agency: “Officers responded to a radio call to check the welfare of an individual who was said to be running in the street, interfering with traffic, screaming – one person said that he was naked and masturbating.”

Now that the person has been identified as Russell I suspect they’ll be a whole line of people wanting their moment of fame by convincing themselves they saw Russell jerking himself off, but its not very plausible to me that more people didn’t report it when contacting the police at the time.  Infact an early report stated that Rusell was only seen making ‘sexual gestures’ which could mean anything, or very little at all.

I feel sorry for Jason Russell. I don’t agree with him and I have good personal reasons to despise his religion (fundamentalist Christian) but I smell a rat. The Kony film was spread in good faith and  I believe however backwards it is, that it was made in good faith. Its generated a huge amount of healthy debate, bought new voices from Uganda into the mass media here and encouraged other NGO’s to think more seriously about using video as a tool for change. All of that has been a good thing.

In the end it may just turn out that it isn’t the hard to find inaccuracy in the Kony film that kills off Russell, but our judgement, based on potentially false information, of him. And that of course is the danger of making a film about someone else, when it’s really all about you.


  • Quite. Regardless of whom the fact someone has potentially had some form of mental breakdown and in such a public way is not a scenario for mockery. How fast the world spins from caring for 15 mins for one cause to ridiculing another.

  • MattyC

    We’ve all masturbated in the street at one time or another. I actually like him better after this.

  • Was gonna say something… but hard following Matty’s act, that was the best comment I’ve ever heard anywhere- about anything! Except to say that Duck’s last sentence should be repeated in every documentary maker’s ear- like the guy who whispered, “All fame is fleeting,” in the ear of the conquering Roman general upon entering Rome in his self congratulatory victory parade.

  • I wont repeat the story here, but I’ll tell you sometime, about the time in Switzerland I was doing ‘something’ fairly ordinary in the basement of a concert hall that I gave little thought to, but it simply took the unexpected arrival of two young women to immediately catapult my entirely innocent act into a scenario exactly the same as the one involving Russell, with easily made allegations of masturbation. Allegations I’d have had some difficulty extricating myself from.

    Thankfully my situation ended with only giggles from the girls and an epic red face on me, which unfortunately lasted quite a while.

    Point is – simple misunderstandings magnified by the blurry lens of prurience can become inaccurate cudgels. I was (very) lucky, Russell was not.

  • It seems that with all zealous Christians i have met in my life the daemons they are fighting are not necessarily external ones.

  • Surely it’s not Death by Twitter, blaming Twitter would be like blaming a gun for shooting someone, it’s a person that pulls a trigger, blame people as they are the voice behind the 140 characters. Individually and collectively we can do amazing things but also and far too often be amazingly cruel, blinkered, assumptive and judgemental and have itchy trigger & Twitter fingers far too often.

    • Hi Jim,

      I’n not sure I’m ‘blaming’ twitter. I love twitter. Just pointing out its the vehicle for the ridicule of Russell, fairly or unfairly.

  • Fair enough. I guess I was just reacting to the title of the piece. Had it been titled ‘Death by the fickle masses’ I’d probably have kept my mouth shut ; )

    Of course Twitter is merely the vehicle just as a piece of paper and a pen is not the actual author of hate mail. My sadness to this situation was to witness just how… pleased people are to see such an obvious mental collapse. Everyone’s the comedian these days but leave that to Louis C.K and Doug Stanhope, when I see swathes of anybodies trying their hand at satire and jokes at the expense of misfortune it just comes across as a wave of cruelty.

    I read a vast amount of comments upon Twitter from people dealing with PTSD and mental health issues and they all were very touched by the ridicule and instant laugh appeal of this situation. The majority of those laughing and judging as you so rightly pointed out were focusing on miss information and unsubstantiated reports. I just wish we’d all get the hell out of the playground once in a while.

  • the speculation is possible mental psychosis, meth induced paranoia, alcohol and his gestures on this high/breakdown are wildly flamboyant (gay) which makes sense considering he’s a christian father of two kids, married and works with and gets donations from anti-gay christian groups. his homophobic ties, and the fact that he could be repressing his sexuality are all speculations. and yes there is a few videos floating around on the web of him on the street. you should update this blog entry. the guy is a tool. he needs therapy. mildly feel bad for him.

    • Not sure how the videos change anything I’ve written here? Far from it. As for your comment, you forgot to point out that on the board of trustees Invisible Children has an openly gay member.

  • also the Kony 2012 video was pretty much essentially a white man masturbating in public. see ‘white man burden’ critiques of Kony 2012 for my comment to make more sense.

    • I don’t think for a second Jason Russell suffers from any kind of ‘white man’s burden’. Why on earth would he? Its a seriously out of date explanation.

  • duckrabbit usually tries to be on point , encouraging context, history, analysis when it comes across complex things that get watered down but this article did none of those things, like i said go online and update yourself to what is going on, including the lack of transparency of IC’s budget, including donations from anti-gay christian groups to IC (yes that makes them homophobic, despite having a gay guy on the board). the reason he was not arrested but 51/50’ed to a psych ward is due to the mental psychosis he was suffering from, drug induced or not. i’m pretty sure i have read critiques on here of 1st world charities/NGO and their role in Africa, or how 1st world (white) photographers can be leeches in the third world to gain notoriety and fame. http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/03/07/guest_post_joseph_kony_is_not_in_uganda_and_other_complicated_things

    • If you think this post was meant as some analysis of Invisible Children then I’m not surprised your disappointed.

      Being a ‘leech’ has nothing to do with ‘White Mans Burden’.

  • amalotove

    sorry i forget ‘white mans’ burden’ is an outdated concept. third world being colonies of first world is an outdated concept. 1st world military intervention is an outdated concept. why don’t we listen to the ugandans. here’s a few. the radio interview (american) discusses ‘white man’s burden’. i’m not the only one.

    • Please read again. Nobody wrote about wether white mans burden is or isn’t an outdated concept. You conflated it with being a leech which is a contradiction. Perhaps you could actually read what’s written and respond to it rather than ranting about stuff completely outside of the subject of the post.

  • Stephen

    Well, you say the video is not factually inaccurate all, however, as you can read in the foreign policy blog, it actually is pretty inaccurate.

    • Hi Stephen,

      So how many actual facts does the film get wrong?

      • Stephen

        The story of the night commuters in Gulu is an old one. According the film, it seems that Kony is still abducting children in Uganda which hasn’t happened for years. Then, as Foreign Policy points out “1) Joseph Kony is not in Uganda and hasn’t been for 6 years; 2) the LRA now numbers at most in the hundreds”.
        “Additionally, the LRA (thankfully!) does not have 30,000 mindless child soldiers. This grim figure, cited by Invisible Children in the film (and by others) refers to the total number of kids abducted by the LRA over nearly 30 years. Eerily, it is also the same number estimated for the total killed in the more than 20 years of conflict in Northern Uganda.”
        Then it wouldn’t hurt giving a bit of background of who Kony is and about Uganda too, and explain that his beliefs are supposed to be religious instead saying he has no beliefs.
        Being right or wrong about facts is not only about the facts themselves but also about the way you present them, as you should know. That is called “manipulation” (in this case maybe is just “ignorance”) despite the good faith that probably Russell had.

        • Hi Stephen,

          As you point out a factual inaccuracy would be to state that Kony is still abducting children in Uganda but infact the film does state that Kony has moved out of Uganda.

          To land one on the film, which is definitely misleading, I think you need to look at what is precisely stated in the film, and why it is factually incorrect, not what is written on secondary sources.

          But I agree the film is simplistic, misleading and manipulative. Almost all media of this nature is. Afterall they are an advocacy group.

  • responding to your article would mean I take apart your conspiracy claim of Russell being framed by some unknown sources, ” i smell a rat” and actually in some regards I did response, stating that if you did any research you would see that Russell actually did have a breakdown where police were involved and that I argued that his organization acting on “good faith” as you say is really is about having a big emotional experience that validates privilege.
    . by the way you can find a vidoe online where Russell is quoted as saying that he sees his NGO more as a “business” than a charity. so yes, i actually was responding to your sympathetic love letter/conspiracy theory.
    The mainstreaming of dialogue around NGO’s representations of people they are supposedly supporting is the best thing that came out of this. here’s another harsh indictment of the ‘white saviour industrial complex’ (yes the leech comment was rather reactionary-i admit) http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/03/the-white-savior-industrial-complex/254843/

    • Once again you’re responding to something not written.

      Did I write he had not had breakdown? No. It’s totally obvious he’s had a breakdown! Did I say this was a conspiracy theory? No.

      Was it widely reported that he was wanking in the street? Yes. Is this true? It looks like no.

      Was it widely reported that he was arrested? Yes. Is this true? No. So was I therefore right in my assessment that these parts of the story didn’t stack up? Obviously yes. That’s the rat. That we all had a good laugh at Jason’s expense. Nothing pretty about that.

      And yes I do have sympathy for someone who has had a mental breakdown and then been misrepresented by the media. That’s all the post touches on.

duckrabbit is a production company formed by radio producer/journalist Benjamin Chesterton and photographer David White. We specialize in digital storytelling.

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