Examining the Effect of KONY 2012

Unless you were completely off the grid last week, you probably saw either Invisible Children’s KONY 2012 video, the backlash against it, or both. While there’s a wealth of critical analysis of whether the KONY 2012 campaign is actually doing any good, there’s no doubt that it got people’s attention. So let’s examine the good, the bad, and the to-be-determined of KONY 2012.

The Good

Invisible Children has a somewhat unique goal structure in achieving their mission statement. From their website:

Poster of Joseph Kony, Ugandan Warlord and subject of the Invisible Children KONY 2012 campaign
KONY 2012 Poster from Invisible Children's Digital Kit
  1.  Make the world aware of the LRA. This includes making documentary films and touring them around the world so that they are seen for free by millions of people.
  2.  Channel energy from viewers of IC films into large-scale advocacy campaigns to stop the LRA and protect civilians.
  3.  Operate programs on the ground in LRA-affected areas that provide protection, rehabilitation and development assistance.

Only one of these goals provides direct services (one of the criticisms levied against the organization). The two main goals really hinge around awareness, and in this way, KONY 2012 has excelled. By making an engaging film that speaks to the social media generation, including persuasive calls to action and easy ways to spread the word, KONY 2012 is a masterpiece in social media campaigning. From creating something that has fantastic productions values, to telling a compelling human story, to reaching the Slactivism generation right where they live – online – and the finishing touch, by urging viewers to reach out to important social media influencers such as Oprah Winfrey, Justin Beiber, and George Clooney, every step in the campaign has been designed to reach the largest number of people possible. And it has. With more than 56 million video views (as of Friday afternoon) and more than 200 video responses on YouTube, it’s tracking as the fastest growing social video in history. With estimates of ten million tweets and more than two billion shares on Facebook, it will be something that marketers and non-profits study in years to come as the ideal of how to create a compelling, fast growing, social media campaign.

The Bad

Along with this speed train of a social media phenomenon is one huge concern unique to the new virality of news: the speed with which unchecked information can spread. A video as engaging and convincing as KONY 2012 definitely brought many viewers to want to take action, but blindly following one piece of information into a cause isn’t always a good idea. Especially when this cause shows you pretty bracelets and T-shirts that you can buy to “support” their missions. A clever director and editor can make one side of any situation seem compelling (not to Godwin myself, but look at Leni Riefenstahl), but most causes are very complex and nuanced situations that one can’t understand fully after watching one half hour video. This is the case with the KONY 2012 situation. To present the current state in Uganda as it is presented in the video is simplistic, reductive, and, I would imagine, offensive to the citizens of Uganda who have been working to bring their country together. BoingBoing has a good roundup of African commentators responding to KONY 2012. Beyond that, there are conflicting reports about where the LRA and Kony himself even are currently, but most of them point to Not-Uganda. Granted, I don’t have all the facts to present, but there’s definitely enough contrary information to make me pause and want to investigate more before hitting the donate button.

The To Be Determined

As the Hype/Blacklash cycle winds down, it is yet to be seen what effect the campaign will have. Part of the campaign compels supporters to urge President Obama to provide more support for the situation. Only thing is, he already has. He sent troops into Central Africa last fall. Invisible Children is definitely getting a flood of donations from that, but will those donations go to more awareness and advocacy campaigns rather than direct services? Will the backlash cause people to think more critically about the organizations they donate to? Will that critical thinking raise awareness for and donations to other charities providing more direct services to the citizens of central Africa? The big date for the KONY 2012 Campaign is April 20th, so this is definitely a story that will continue developing.

For a comprehensive look at many of the issues surrounding the KONY controversy, see our own Mary Anne Limoncelli’s coverage of the issue.

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Crystal Coleman

Florida girl living on the west coast. During the day, I consult in social media and community management. I have a really cute puppy (Elphaba) and a British husband (I keep him for his accent) as well as an unhealthy relationship with parentheses. http://thatgirlcrystal.com

7 thoughts on “Examining the Effect of KONY 2012”

  1. When I couldn’t put my finger on why Kony 2012 didn’t feel right, I started looking for Ugandan (and other African) opinions. After all, if they are the recipients of IC’s endeavors, their opinion is what really counts. The responses from various journalists, lawyers, politicians, students…none of them were happy about this latest campaign.

  2. Thanks for the round-up.  I have been living in a cave the past week, well I was at a work conference, but close enough, so while I’ve seen the whole KONY 2012 thing around, I haven’t watched or explored the subject at all.  This kinda wrapped everything up in a nice neat present for me!

  3. I only read today about the filmmaker, Russell, being found in his underwear and disoriented (and masturbating?) in public a couple of days ago and being checked into a mental health facility (and getting out today.) I don’t know much about him at all, but it sounds like a strange and sad story.

    1. Yeah, this was written before that went down, but even if I’d written it after, I probably would have stayed away from it. While Jason Russell’s evangelical motivations behind IC are worth a whole ‘nother article themselves (written by someone better informed than I), I draw the line at publicizing (and relishing in, as some IC critics have done) people’s very probably mental-health related problems. It gives me an icky feeling.

      1. Yeah, personally it made me feel a lot of sympathy for the guy. I already wasn’t convinced he deserved all of the scorn and, really, hatred being heaped upon him, although his efforts were so misguided as to be a little bewildering. I just think it’s a shame all around.

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