On March 5, one video appeared from an unknown organisation. “Nothing is more powerful than a idea,” the video declares in the first five seconds. But, despite being 30 minutes long, the video’s main message captured many. They soon shared it to their friends on Facebook and Twitter. Then their friends shared it to their friends; and soon, it became a movement.
This video was KONY 2012, produced by Invisible Children. Their campaign was to stop Joseph Kony and bring him to justice. This was to be done by simply get his name out there in the world, using social media to contact 20 powerful celebrities and 12 influential politicians – including Angelina Jolie, Taylor Swift, Ban Ki Moon and Barack Obama. And by having thousands and thousands of people behind them, they could pressure the governments around the world to do something to accomplish the goal.
Thousands quickly became millions as the video was spread via social media. The film also was broadcast on television – in Australia, on Channel Ten’s The Project.
We were told that we had one year. So, how did that go?
By the end of March, it did manage to get politicians to do something. On March 21, a resolution was passed in Congress condemning Kony. The African Union announced that it will send 5000 more troops to “join the hunt”. In addition, whilst unrelated to Kony himself but with the LRA, Ugandan forces managed to capture Caesar Acellam, a military strategist for the group.
However, everything started falling apart a week after the video was launched.
While the media became focused on the video and the popularity; the internet was trying to figure out who was this organisation. Invisible Children was indeed a real organisation, but it received tremendous criticism when its finances showed that only a third of donations were actually spent on the ground. Most of the money, they admit, goes to “raising awareness” about the issue – through touring and talking to schools, and making videos online.
As Charlie Brooker said on 10 O’Clock Live, many of those videos (I might add, not well produced like the KONY 2012 film) specifically do not mention Uganda, nor Kony. Other videos are hilariously bad (such as their High School Musical spoof to promote an event), or eerily creepy (like their ad for the Fourth Estate event). Invisible Children has removed some the videos, but this is the internet – once you post something, you can never fully take it down.
Also adding to the internet’s distrust with the campaign was their systems – they failed as they were unable to cope with the huge demand. Their third film, MOVE – which goes into detail about the behind the scenes of Invisible Children during the campaign (though, given that it is produced by them, be a bit skeptical. However, they do show the good and the bad) – shows that they had to use other platforms, such as Tumblr, because their website was inaccessible. Like ClickFrenzy in Australia, people start losing trust if they can’t access your site – because they’ll think it is a scam.
Invisible Children were also accused of being an Illuminati plot, or even propaganda for the US Government. First, let get this out the way – the Illuminati does not exist. There is no credible evidence that it exists – and citing “Info Wars” by some mad man is not evidence. There is also no evidence of it being propaganda for the US Government. In all honesty, I think they wanted to do something – of course, they could have done it a bit better. But even they didn’t expect the millions and millions of views.
The film also attracted a lot of criticism, mainly from foreign policy watchers and those inside Uganda. They noted that the film oversimplified the issue in order to maximize emotional impact (which, arguably, could be the reason why it spread like wildfire), and to play into a simplistic view of Africa. It has also been accused of not highlighting recent facts like that Joseph Kony wasn’t even in Uganda and has not been for six years, and the LRA isn’t as big a threat as it was. In addition, according to Foreign Policy, the 30,000 child soldiers figure cited by the film is actually the total number of kids abducted by the LRA.
The LRA now are in their hundreds, and have been operating in remote areas of neighbouring countries. Yes, they are still continuing to cause havoc in northern Uganda, and despite 100 US advisors deployed to help Uganda to capture Kony, he has been very hard to capture. However, again according to Foreign Policy, “Northern Uganda has had tremendous recovery in the 6 years of peace since the LRA left.”
The Ugandans themselves were also not happy with the film. One victim in the film was quoted in saying that, “I watched the Kony 2012 video but I decided to return home before the second one (Kony 2012 Par II) because I was dissatisfied with its content. I became sad when I saw my photo in the video. I knew they were using it to profit.”
And the Government of Uganda also took to YouTube to correct a “false impression” that KONY 2012 left on people. “The Kony 2012 campaign fails to make one crucial point clear. Joseph Kony is not in Uganda,” the Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi, said in a video rebuttal. “Uganda is not in conflict. Uganda is a modern, developing country which enjoys peace, stability and security.”
Invisible Children, to be fair, has been trying to address some of its criticism. It worked to be more transparent, and addressed some of the factual errors in a Part II released a few weeks later. The follow up didn’t get as many views as KONY 2012.
The beauty of hindsight is that we can pin-point where it all came crashing down. The failure of the follow up to replicate the success of the first is where I would say the entire KONY 2012 campaign started to fade into obscurity.
Jason Russell, the face of the campaign, soon had a mental breakdown in San Diego. Gossip website TMZ broke the story, and became a big news story. Russell was caught naked and in a fit of rage, and reportedly masturbating in public. He was soon detained. His wife denied that he took drugs, and both his family and Invisible Children said that it was due to “extreme exhaustion, stress and dehydration”.
Regardless of the reason, it didn’t help – both outside and inside. “It was like losing a visionary,” one member said on the MOVE documentary.
Later on, Russell said in the MOVE documentary, “For the last 9 years, I’ve been working in this war zone… my mind betrayed me, and I was hospitalised. I’m so sorry to the thousands of people who were confused and who were scared and who didn’t trust us any more because of what happened.”
When April 20 came along for its event called “Cover the Night” – where supporters were tasked to plaster the streets with KONY 2012 posters – we saw how much sticking power it had. It had none. Most of the people who said yes to the campaign and to events across the world for “Cover the Night” – even some of my friends (I didn’t bother replying to those invites) – didn’t show up.
For those who did show up, the results were mixed. I was up in Sydney, and only saw one poster on George Street. Fairfax Media reports that only 25 people showed up on the day. In Melbourne, Harrison Polites from Technology Spectator writes, “There are a few posters scattered around Melbourne for example, but not even close to the “cover the city” extent that The Invisible Children were hoping for.” In Canada, a dozen people showed up for an Toronto event while another in Montreal was cancelled. The Guardian reports that three showed up at one in Los Angeles.
This was the point where the campaign was no longer relevant to most people. There are still some followers, but people now don’t really care any more. People will still be against Joseph Kony and the crimes that he has done, but Invisible Children and the campaign is now lost in their minds.
What probably killed the campaign, as they have admitted, was the unexpected number of views. They wanted 500,000 views for the year. Instead, they got over 90 million. But the video encouraged slacktivism. The very end of the video gave people the option to sign a pledge, buy the action kit and sign up to donate money every month; OR “Share this movie online – It’s free”. It gave you an option to show that you care without commitment. Go to Facebook, Twitter and any other social media platform and spread the message.
In other words, if you didn’t share, you didn’t care.
In the video, they say that we had one year to accomplish something just – get Joseph Kony. In the end, it got his name out, but not his capture. Invisible Children will continue to press the issue and it appears that it will not stop until Kony is behind bars in the International Criminal Court. But now, only a few will listen.
KONY 2012 will be remembered not on its success, but for the failures of the campaign – factual inaccuracies, lack of transparency and the failure of Cover the Night. Regardless, you have to give credit to Invisible Children for bringing attention to Joseph Kony. We now all know his name, what he has done and the damage he has caused.