What Happened to the #KONY2012 Campaign?

A year ago last March, Invisible Children, a nonprofit activist group from California, launched the most viral social media campaign of all-time.  They made a half-hour video about Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony that reached over 100 million people in 6 days, making Kony — one of the world’s most-wanted criminals — instantly famous.  After the video went viral, it received a ton of immediate backlash until eventually the attention started to fade.  The Viral Media Lab was covering the spread of this video as it was happening and we created a repository for articles from every perspective.

The viral activity of the Kony video also created a debate about clicktivism vs activism (some were calling it slacktivism) and whether or not the video did anything more than create awareness (and is creating awareness enough?).  The video raised the very important  question of how to handle viral media that moves fast, sweeping the ‘net before we have time to properly process and research the information we’ve received (we’re a global community with a still-developing global brain).  This is a question we can start to address a year later, after the initial sweep of the video, and the subsequent aftermath of backlash and controversy.  So how does the most viral video of all-time create long-term change?  How has the #StopKONY campaign held up and evolved over time, and what have Invisible Children accomplished since the release of their amazingly viral video?

Lucky for us, Mashable did a comprehensive follow-up to their initial Kony campaign coverage (apparently they received a lot of tweet-prodding from so many of Invisible Children’s core followers/free PR team).

from the Mashable article:

…. were the films’ goals achieved? Yes and no. While Kony is certainly famous, and perhaps can be considered among the most wanted men in the world, he still hasn’t been captured.

According to a joint study from Invisible Children and another non-profit Resolve, more high-ranking LRA officials left the group in 2012 than in the previous three years combined. Two high ranking officials, Major General Ceasar Acellam and Lieutenant Colonel Vincent Binansio “Binani” Okumu were removed from the battlefield. LRA killings decreased 67% from 2011 to 2012. What’s more, 51 civilians were killed by the LRA in 2012, compared to 154 in 2011 and 706 in 2010. While these numbers may not sound too significant, the U.N. estimates that 400,000 people have been forced to relocate, fleeing LRA activities.

Read the entire Mashable article here for a full IC progress report.

& Invisible Children posted this video with an update 5 months ago:

IC  released another stirringly well-edited new video on March 6 to fill us in on what they’ve been up to and what they’ve accomplished over the past year (the video has only received a little over 75,000 views in 3 months):

Fast Co.Exist pulled this important quote from the video’s narrator:

“Joseph Kony became the most wanted man in the world. People got on board by the millions. But because the story spread so quickly and there were so many voices, the message got confusing. But our voice and our mission never changed.”  

Again, a viral message that spreads so quickly through a global community is perhaps difficult to understand and process, especially when everyone is initially ill-informed but well-meaning and all of the many Internet voices are talking at once.  The Co.Exist article mentions that the IC charity is high-rated, legit, and they have been busy over the past year.  Read the rest of the Co.Exist article here.

IC also posted this longer video called “Move,” as commentary on their record viral video, aimed at Millennials:

It seems like all of these newer videos have around 70,000 hits each after a few months, so perhaps this represents the core devoted crowd and the people who follow the story religiously.  This is a fairly large and active grassroots global community, especially considering the relatively small size of the Invisible Children nonprofit.  The most recent video is interesting because it’s a little more rough and transparent, looking back at the first video and viewing it critically this time for the flaws in storytelling that led to the initial backlash, and how this affected IC’s Chief Creative Officer, Jason Russell (in a lot of ways the face of the campaign), and contributed to his emotional breakdown.  This video is also an attempt to mobilize the community and get supporters to gather in Washington DC on November 17th to attend the Fourth Estate Leadership Summit for students.  The deadline to apply was May 1.

Click here to read about “How Storytelling Is at the Heart of Making Social Change” from Alternet.  Do you think Invisible Children’s story has instigated major social change over time?  Have you been keeping up with their campaign?  Did you #CoverTheNight last April, or did you stop listening after the confusion and backlash that followed the success of the very viral video last year?

Personally, I love IC’s passion and I think it’s heartening to see so many people working together as a global community to spread awareness.  But there is perhaps a larger issue at hand here and this is something we should consider longterm because we’re going to see more of this in the future (important messages that get flattened by the speed of the medium).  We need to find a way to adjust to the new speed of viral media as a unified global community with a functional and communicative global brain.  We need to process the information we’re receiving in a productive way.  Marshall McLuhan said  that “the new science of communication is percept, not concept.”   Perhaps we should try to pace and sync our communal perceptions and reactions until we have time to check the facts and fully understand the concept of what we’re passing along. Milan Kundera talks about the “ecstasy of speed” in the era of new technology:

“…. man delegates the faculty of speed to a machine: from then on, his own body is outside the process, and he gives over to a speed that is non-corporeal, non-material, pure speed, speed itself, ecstasy speed.” 

Viral media is beginning to work like Kundera’s motorcycle, taking us out of our bodies and working faster than our minds through this highway of chaotic information that is a highly stimulating rush.  It initially brought us together as a global village and then we started to ride our information, juice it up, pass it along at an alarming rate.   The vehicle of our information moves so fast now that it has become ecstatic and addictive.  It’s a non-corporeal, ghostly ride, an exciting global out-of-body event that (in the case of IC initially) confused us and left few perceptible — or communally decipherable — tracks.


There are 19 comments

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  1. Deisy

    I think the #stopKONY movement went viral because there was a lot of emotion put into the video. We saw how the kids hide and suffer because of Kony. We put ourselves in that position or think of our kids being in that position and are heartbroken. We shared it because we cared.

    I do think it was effective because it informed people of what Kony was doing and what needed to be done to help them. Before this movement, many of us didn’t know about Kony or what he was doing. Now we do and we want to help.

    • Stephanie Spiro

      I agree. I think the most important thing about the video was that it created awareness, and awareness is key. After the viral video circulated and the buzz surrounding the video faded away, Joseph Kony was featured on the cover of Time Magazine and he’s still on the radar.

  2. megsmart

    I think the KONY effect is a great example of how the mass accessibility of the internet can contravene the act of absorbing data. The exposure that Invisible Children manage to manifest in a matter of days is commendable however, by formatting it in such a viral manner, it instantly became realized as a meme. There is an overinflation of activity over a very short period of time until something else takes its place. Had the leaders of the movement formulated their story into different mediums that hold more substance – say a documentary movie or a book, then they could have blasted the promotional components over the world wide web. We behave differently when browsing the web versus physically going to a movie theatre, and I think this has some effect as to how we comprehend the data being shared.

    Meg Smart

    • Stephanie Spiro

      Hi Meg,

      Wow. Interesting and true! Absorbing all our information (as entertainment) online is something that’s relatively new, and I think we’re still learning how to understand and digest things like the Kony video that circulate fast and reach so many people instantly (before we have an opportunity to fully understand the material we’re passing along). We don’t know what to do with it, especially if a short video triggers an emotional reaction and then we don’t know where to go or what to do with that feeling. I think it would have been a GREAT idea for Invisible Children to have made a whole movie about Kony and then to have blasted out the video as promotional material for the movie — to amass an audience, spread awareness, and then to direct that group of caring people to a repository of information, so the whole thing wouldn’t have faded away after the initial video circulated. I think as an active Internet audience, we need to learn how to receive this overwhelming amount of viral information that is so important, because most of it requires extra time for us to go research the subject on our own. It would be helpful if the people making the short videos would give us a channel or an online ecosystem devoted to the subject of the videos to stimulate longterm learning, interest, and action.

  3. natashia t

    The most watched videos on the Internet and ads on TV are the ones that feature children and animals. That said, the KONY 2012 works really well because it leverages on this and shock factor, it shows pictures of children in unthinkable situations: a child brandishing an AK-47 and children with mutilated faces. It also gives us a picture of the villain – the Lord’s Resistance Army’s leader Joseph Kony, so we can put a face to those horrible deeds. Call it manipulative if you will, but the campaign successfully tug at our heartstrings.

    It also touched upon the 3 factors we discussed in class, the story of us, the story of now and the story of me. The story of now, KONY 2012, shows pictures that’s associated with war, everyone’s memory was fresh from America winning the war from terrorism – Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011. So the pictures might have moved people who viewed the video with feelings of empowerment. The story of us and me dealt more with what can I and we, collectively do, to change this situation, for the future of our children.

    A year later, KONY 2012 is still successful as images of war and children are relevant to our story of now. Hollywood or not, whether you are critical or not, they are still part of what’s happening in the world. I suggest, go beyond the superficial and dig deep into the crux, what can we do to help the situation.

    Natashia T

    • Stephanie Spiro

      Hi Natashia,

      I love that you said to dig deep and I think this is an important part of the ME here. Each person is responsible for digging deeper, learning more on their own, and finding a way to help that works for them. The video is manipulative at times, and it’s too short to really uncover the complexities of the KONY situation or to fully explain what’s going on. Living in the viral video days, it might be the responsibility of the individual to do the necessary supplementary research on their own before they join the greater cause.

      I definitely think IC was pulling for the “Me. We” (to quote Muhammad Ali)…. to get us unified in our mission to fight KONY together and to make things happen as a group. But again, personal research is essential when we are passing along important information that only skims the surface and creates awareness and interest. The rest is up to us as engaged and responsible citizens of the global village/Internet to try to stay informed as best we can.

  4. Tone-NaCousar

    I actually cannot be too sure that this campaign was very effective mainly because it went viral and received so much publicity for a short amount of time. I remember seeing the video and thinking to myself how horrible this was and how no adult or child should go through this but i still could not make it my business to donate any of my fund and that was mainly because there has been wars and such activities that Kony has put together for years and in many places and I wondered why NOW is the right time and why this certain area of the world. The video was a video that I could only pay attention to once and although it broke my heart I felt as though I could not trust the movement with my financial support.

    • Stephanie Spiro

      That makes sense, especially since the Invisible Children were unclear about how they were using their donations at first. It’s always good to do some research before you donate and even though you can’t financially support everything, you can choose to support things you feel passionately about. Also, it doesn’t have to be about money. I still really believe that passing the video along and helping to create awareness was hugely helpful and an important way to support the cause.

  5. Elizabeth Torres

    As I read and viewed the various videos posted about the lives, impact and experience of children as in the life of Jacob and his brother I feel an overwhelming numbing throughout my body. The cruelty amongst children, sexual slavery amongst women, shattered lives as in the young boy named Daniel which is the name of my son.

    It all just swirls in my head as if this can not still be happening in our world today. There is a disconnect because it is not happening to my immediate family yet it is when innocent children are robbed from their youth for no reason.

    No one should have to endure such pain and cruelty.

    I felt for the people taking on a mission based on the love for humanity without the experience and/or resources past just making a promise to Jacob as a young boy. It’s action regardless of fear.

    I noted a few statements that took it from a selfless cause to catch phrases seemingly created as twitter feeds like:

    The people lead and the leaders follow
    Clicktivism vesus Activism

    The ridicule and media mania once again was inevitable based on the millions of views yet it caused an awareness that broke the barriers of silence and tolerance.

    What an incredible campaign with multi-media at it best to move and call into action from the ridiculed generation the Millennial.

    When Woodstock was created in the name of peace, did they have it right? All sorted out? No and it too is a historical moment in time supported by the youth of its time supporting peace.

    So will KONY 2012 moving into the Fourth Estate campaign create long-term change? I think it absolutely will due to the Move video showing real people making mistakes and thriving. The infrastructures continuously building with the people leading and the leaders following.

    There will always be criticism from the spectators watching the activist even if it clicktivism. The internet will and was never designed to be a controlled medium of communication and as adults we create our interpretation every second and click.

    It is our responsibility what happens in the world and can participate in the change or just have something to say about it.

    • Stephanie Spiro

      Yes, I do believe the KONY campaign has made progress in several ways. Also, I like the point you made about creating our own interpretation of things. We do that no matter what, so we should take responsibility for our interpretations and corresponding actions. Each click counts, and that is a choice and an action. Also, we can choose for our interpretations and perceptions of events, issues, videos, etc, to be more or less informed. We have Google at our fingertips. So the clicking we do is not only to spread awareness and share videos, but it’s also the clicking we do on our own to research issues that pull at our heartstrings.

  6. leonardo_alex

    I find the intent of the KONY2012 campaign. I think it was a good campaign that in that it produced an emotional response from people. I remember having this plastered all over my news feed last year; there no doubt about the mass reach. I agree with the point brought up in this article that despite the efforts of the campaign Kony has not yet been caught.

    I also saw that the director of this video recently was arrested for public nudity and his wife blames the success of the video for this. Does that change the impact of this video? I dont think so.

    • Stephanie Spiro

      I don’t think Jason Russell’s arrest (that happened right after the first video went viral) *should* change the way the general public watched and processed the video, but I think it unfortunately did. This is also a part of the problem with viral activity on the Internet. The author of the material often becomes a part of the story when their video or photograph goes viral. No one has time to process a LOT of good information, so we don’t know how to fact-check it and we feel duped if it’s untrue, vague, etc, OR if the people behind the video deal with instant fame in a way that’s difficult to understand. In the KONY video case, we also didn’t have time to look into Invisible Children. The subsequent Russell arrest is equally vague in our minds (no time to research) and it’s a negative to counter the positive feeling we had when we originally passed the video along. Also, Russell is a major character in the story (in the viral video) and it was rough to see “the good guy” falling apart. It’s hard to separate the “reality” from the layers of story and find a reliable balance here, especially when we were inundated with information in such a short period of time. I’m glad IC released a second video a year later to talk about their progress and to explain what happened to Russell after the video went viral. It must have been difficult for the people at IC to process the instant and TREMENDOUS success of their video. Suddenly – and unexpectedly – they were in the spotlight and I’m sure that was a lot of pressure.

  7. nickcalabrese

    This video is emotionally manipulative because it puts a face to both the villain and the hero. This helps with getting people to become more invested in a cause, when they are visually stimulated and have been given a name and a face to direct their negative/positive feelings.

    Although this video is very effective and answers all three essential questions, the later negative publicity that Jason Russell received unfortunately sort of gave the project a lack of credibility that it never regained. Also, it may have gone viral quickly but seemed to have been forgotten just as quickly – so being viral does not seem to be related to longevity. It was a constant issue people were facing in their personal day to day lives and I think that might have contributed to the how quickly it was stricken from peoples’ memory. I’m not sure awareness is enough. People need to make the CHOICE to participate not just be aware.

    • Stephanie Spiro

      This is a good question to ask ourselves, because I’m guessing we’ll see a lot more viral activity in the years to come: How do we create a foundation or ecosystem for viral information (longterm ideas traveling faster than we have time to process these ideas) to be fully absorbed and accumulated, learned and acted on over time? How can viral ideas make a longterm impact and evolve and become useful over time? We need to work out a process for this, both as active audiences of the Internet and (especially) as producers of potentially viral material with important ideas.

      I do think the video was flawed and manipulative, and the story arc was uneven, but overall IC had good intentions and they definitely created awareness, so that’s a great thing.

      Also, passing along information and spreading awareness is an action and people make the choice to do that. BUT, what’s the next step? You’re right….

  8. Dillyles


    I love the fact that the KONY 2012 campaign brought the attention of the world to the chaos that is normally hidden from us. It helped shed light to the wrongs in other areas of the world.

    the biggest issue is that he is still around.
    After all the buzz and rallying up, you would think he would be captured. A year and a half later, its still happening.
    Kony is still continuing killing and torturing woman and children.

    The people of the KONY campaign are still continuing to fight and this issue is still alive.
    The question is this: What can we, the people, do to halt this from happening any longer?

    • Stephanie Spiro

      This is still an issue, yes and it’s a complicated one. We don’t know what to do after we’ve helped spread awareness by spreading the video. And we all have such good intentions & the video did make a difference and we’ve made some headway, re: Kony, and that is made clear in the follow-up video. But what now?

  9. Alexandra Rangels

    The “Kony 2012” campaign has majorly impacted the way we spread viable information by expressively communicating its’ unique message and causing us to attach emotionality to the cause. Following the call to action at the end of the video – “Above all share this movie, it’s free”, I remember showing it to my parents, being overly excited about how the truth got exposed and how each of us can support the young victims in Africa. However, because of its’ viral aspect, it generated a ‘washing’ effect, where the clarity of the message was overshadowed by the magnitude of the social wave. It was difficult to focus our attention on the invisible children, rather than exhausting all efforts to stop a single criminal. Not to mention arguing over the controversy around the proper channeling of the profits. What was necessary to advocate the real cause behind it most effectively?
    In a new development, Russel, the filmmaker and co- founder of Kony 2012, has created a follow-up initiative called “ZeroLRA”, focused on the people who have escaped the LRA, allowing visitors to read their stories and contribute. The theme behind it is rather celebratory. “We are going to celebrate every escape, every name, every life” he says. Online participants have the chance to win a trip to Uganda and various “perks” by fundraising the cause. Invisible Children have once again called for help by setting up a new goal and aiming to raise $3 million by Dec. 31 this year.

    Alexandra Rangels

    • Stephanie Spiro

      Hi Alexandra!

      This website and new initiative is interesting! But still, it’s a little confusing, maybe? I think you’re so right about Invisible Children. They’re so passionate. They have wonderful intentions and I’m so thankful for them, but I also wonder if they’re better at some things (like spreading awareness, creating buzz and videos — so important!!) and not as good at other things (like organizing their audience and speaking to people coherently about what it is they’re really doing and achieving). They should have been more organized, re: the aftermath of the video, but I don’t think they expected the video would go SO viral (the fastest spreading video of all time!). I think they were originally shooting for around 500,000 views in 6 months and instead it reached almost 100 million people in 6 days. But still, I agree with you. I think we didn’t know what to do after the initial impact of the video wore off. IC wasn’t organized enough and they certainly weren’t prepared for the attention and scrutiny (some justified, some unjustified), post-video.

  10. Danielle Reddick

    I am very happy to know that Kony’s life has been affected, his way of life has been changed. It is no longer as easy as it was for him to destroy lives.

    Like many other comments my question is; What is the next step?

    Joseph Kony and his followers do not seem to be the type who will surrender which probably works out because they also don’t seem the type that could be rehabilitated.

    After a little research I learned that not everyone was happy about the type of attention that this subject received. See below

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