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How “Kony” went viral

How “Kony” went viral

News of The Lord’s Resistance Army, its leader, Joseph Kony, and their brutal tactics, including using kidnapped children as soldiers have been around for years. This week a video and an intense social media campaign brought the story to life in a big way.

Both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal describes how it happened.

Joseph Kron in the NYT wrote:

This week, in a testament to the explosive power of social media, he managed to do so in a matter of days, baffling diplomats, academics and Ugandans who have worked assiduously on the issue for decades without anything close to the blitz of attention that Mr. Russell and his tight-knit group of activists have generated.

Since being posted on Monday, their video, “KONY 2012,” has attracted more than 50 million views on YouTube and Vimeo, generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations on the first day alone and rocketing across Twitter and Facebook at a pace rarely seen for any video, let alone a half-hour film about a distant conflict in central Africa.

Though Mr. Russell is at a loss to fully explain it, he has clearly tapped into a vein of youthful idealism that the authorities the world over have been struggling — and failing — to comprehend and keep up with. YouTube said the popularity was driven by viewers in the United States and those younger than 25. Many parents, including at least one in the State Department, discovered the video only after their children showed it to them.

On the NYT’s blog “The Lede”, J. David Goodman and Jennifer Preston detail how the producers targeted celebrities and certain sites to get the word out.


How did “Kony 2012? go viral so quickly?

Invisible Children, which has already produced 11 films over the years and has brought its case to college students around the country, had a strong base of followers to begin with on Facebook, Twitter and its YouTube channel.

In addition to using social media tools to help distribute the film, Jason Russell, the film’s director and narrator, talks in the film about how social media is empowering people all over the world to bring about change. He then asks viewers to join him in this campaign to capture Mr. Kony after describing his friendship with one of Mr. Kony’s victims and then sharing a compelling narrative about how he became involved in this effort.

In the film, Mr. Russell explains the social media strategy, which includes getting people to enlist celebrities on Twitter, including Oprah Winfrey and others with large followings, to help get out the word about the film and Mr. Kony. The group also specifically asked people who viewed the film to share it with their personal networks on social media platforms so that “Kony’s name is everywhere.”

Of course, as quickly as the story went out the criticism came in.

For one thing, says Joshua Keating in Foreign Policy, the situation is more complicated than the film indicates and the solution is not as simple.


n Foreign Policy magazine, Joshua Keating also noted that the situation in central Africa was more complex than Mr. Russell had presented, including the fact that Mr. Kony is no longer in Uganda, making it even more difficult to arrest him. He also writes: “It would be great to get rid of Kony. He and his forces have left a path of abductions and mass murder in their wake for over 20 years. But let’s get two things straight: 1) Joseph Kony is not in Uganda and hasn’t been for 6 years; 2) the LRA now numbers at most in the hundreds, and while it is still causing immense suffering, it is unclear how millions of well-meaning but misinformed people are going to help deal with the more complicated reality.”

There are also complaints that the group Invisible Children spends too much money on itself and not enough money on its stated charitable goals. But since their main tool for doing their work is filmmaking, it is hard to know if the costs the critics point to are out of line. The point is that with all of the attention also comes greater scrutiny and that this accountability can be just as viral as the message itself.

Many Africans are unhappy that this video has gotten so big so fast…that it does nothing to portray Africa as it is and plays into the worst Western stereotypes. Some say that the video is a cover for Christian evangelizing in Africa. Others say that it is a pre-text for Western military incursion. Others say that the film reinforces the idea that Africans are powerless victims and must depend on Western aid. has a round up of African responses including this:

TMS Ruge, the Ugandan-born co-founder of Project Diaspora is pissed. He says he wants to “bang my head against my desk” to “make the dumb-assery stop.” writes, “It is a slap in the face to so many of us who want to rise from the ashes of our tumultuous past and the noose of benevolent, paternalistic, aid-driven development memes. We, Africans, are sandwiched between our historically factual imperfections and well-intentioned, road-to-hell-building-do-gooders. It is a suffocating state of existence. To be properly heard, we must ride the coattails of self-righteous idiocy train. Even then, we have to fight for our voices to be respected.”


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David Allen

I haven’t seen the video and don’t intend to

It is astounding that someone who admits to purposely remaining ignorant of something, would venture to criticize it in any possible manner. Nor to think that their uninformed criticism has any value at all.

Joshua Keating must also have chosen to remain ignorant of the video or he would know that the video points out the exact criticism that he has about it in its narrative and showing the movement of the LRA on a map.

As for TMS Ruge, how many children must be murdered, maimed and the childhoods and families of those who survive in the ranks of the LRA stolen, before Africa has shaken off the stigma of its colonialism and need to do it for themselves and stopped the bastards? Yes, it is complicated. Yes, a 27 minute video could not begin to cover how complicated it is. But this has been going on for 20+ years, tens of thousands of Africans have had their lives shattered or taken and the Africans such as TMS Ruge have been powerless to stop it.

I am not a United Statesonian. I live in a developing, sometimes 3rd world nation. I am appalled that this has been occurring for so long and I did not know it was happening. I am not willing to listen to folks such as Mr Ruge so he can save face, it is time this came to a halt. The International Court wants Joseph Kony stopped. This is the year that he is stopped, captured and taken to justice or passes on to answer to his maker.

Bro. David

KONY 2012

Jesse Zink

This might be a good opportunity to think about the way the huge impact the LRA has had on the church in the regions it has terrorized, particularly in South Sudan. The Dioceses of Nzara and Ezo, for instance, were devastated in the last three years by the LRA. (A very short report on my visit to Nzara is here: Yet somehow, the church carries on, and the LRA has been pushed further on.

I haven’t seen the video and don’t intend to but I wonder if it addresses any of the following issues:

-the critical work of the local church in encountering and responding to this terror;

-how we might best be able to support the church in its work of reconciliation and peace-building;

-the funding for the LRA – it is not a mistake that the LRA emerged to destablize northern Uganda at a time when Uganda was sheltering South Sudanese rebels nor that it is now active in South Sudan. The fact that it targets enemies of the Khartoum government should be discussed in any conversation about the LRA

(Also, lest we forget, in a [previous] moment of ignominy, Rush Limbaugh defended the LRA:


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