“Kony 2012” was huge before we fully knew what it was. A campaign to raise awareness about a man wanted by the International Criminal Court who’s been on the loose for more than 20 years actually succeeded in doing that while also bringing both praise and criticism upon the organizing group. In less than five days.
Let’s start with the basics: a San Diego-based organization called Invisible Children released a documentary for the “Kony 2012” campaign on Monday in an effort to bring widespread infamy upon Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. The LRA rampaged across Uganda, kidnapping children and forcing them to commit atrocities. As a result, Kony is wanted by the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Jason Russell, co-founder of Invisible Children, visited Uganda a decade ago, met a young boy, Jacob, who had been both a kidnapped member of the LRA and a victim of its horrendous cruelty; he watched as a member of the group murdered his brother.
Fast-forward and Russell has made a 30-minute video that has gone viral in a matter of days, leading to appearances on the Today show, awareness from government leaders and celebrities including Ryan Seacrest, lengthy coverage in The New York Times and other top-tier media outlets, and skyrocketing sales of the $30 “action kits” created for the campaign.
Though we know this well enough already, the first thing that we all marvel at is how fast social media makes things move.
The video, which has been viewed more than 56 million times on YouTube, first gained attention with viewers under the age of 25 and then spread to older viewers. The Twitter hashtags #StopKony and #Kony2012 have caught fire.
Ultimately, Invisible Children (and the rest of us certainly) would like to see Kony stopped and brought to justice. But the first objective of the campaign was to make Kony’s name well-known. Besides Ryan Seacrest, they’ve gotten attention from Rihanna, and a shout out from WH Press Secretary Jay Carney, part of the effort to reach influential personalities that can spread the word.
In that sense, the organization and its mission is being praised. People are energized and, according to the video, they’re organizing a global event for April 20 where the world will be plastered with Kony 2012 posters.
But when you have this kind of visibility, there will be heightened scrutiny. The group has been faulted with including old information in the video (the LRA has moved on from Uganda and, though they may have kidnapped thousands, sources say there are only a couple hundred members in the Army now).
The organization, for all its good intentions, will have to answer for these things, particularly what they’re doing with the money. Especially if they want to tackle other issues beyond this one.
There are also questions about whether this is promoting “slacktivism,” activism that’s designed for an online audience with short attention spans and little motivation to do more than click on a link. Jezebel paraphrases part of Russell’s answer when he was asked about this by Today‘s Ann Curry: “There’s complicated issues in the world, we know that … Kony’s not. He’s 1 plus 1.”
And The NY Times writes: “He may have boiled down the issues, but that is what it takes to captivate so many people, [Russell] contends. ‘No one wants a boring documentary on Africa,’ he said. ‘Maybe we have to make it pop, and we have to make it cool.'”
As Russell says, there are such huge issues in the world, like Syria and Yemen, with tremendous back stories. It can be daunting to explain all of the nuance to an unfamiliar audience. But, as Forbes asks, can you tackle the big issues while also simplifying them? It’s a question of messaging, engagement, and ultimately, not just fulfilling the purpose of the campaign, but doing the greatest good. Feel free to take to the comments with your thoughts. And in case you haven’t seen it, we’ve embedded the video below.