In case you’ve been in a coma for the past two weeks, LRA (a Ugandan rebel militia) leader Joseph Kony was trending on Twitter recently. #KONY2012 exploded into the online universe thanks to a thirty-minute documentary that has received over 73 million views so far (and counting). Made by the not-for-profit foundation Invisible Children, the documentary advocates for Kony’s capture, who has apparently been training child soldiers in Uganda. No sooner had internet users rallied together around this single cause than criticisms started to arise regarding the finances and goals of Invisible Children.
The tool that played such a crucial role in promoting Invisible Children’s cause was now being used to audit its legitimacy. Many of the millions of users who caught wind of Kony 2012 started to gather and share information about the organization’s high administrative costs and lavish salaries. Disapproval also centered around the fact that Kony and his group of rebels have not been in Uganda for six years, and that the proposed method for capturing Kony was American military intervention and resources for training the Ugandan army. One need only to look upon the quagmire of Afghanistan or Iraq to see the consequences of an international manhunt in an unstable area.
Although the ultimate fate of Joseph Kony and the online movement he has inspired is still unclear, Kony 2012 is about more than just an African tyrant training child soldiers. The online campaign speaks to the power of the internet to inspire millions of people around the world to acknowledge a single issue. We have seen collective advocacy on the internet before, but such an overwhelming response by social media users all over the world is unprecedented. But out of all of the campaigns that use the internet as a tool for advocacy, why has Kony 2012 received such strong attention?
Kony 2012‘s success originated with the popularity of the video. It was undoubtedly moving and very well done. Much of the video’s popularity has to do with its captivating introduction, which invokes familiar images of Facebook and Youtube pages while appealing to the power of the internet to ‘connect us,’ and ‘allow us to share what we love’. By using such encouraging rhetoric, the video plays on the idea that the internet can be used as a tool for creating a participatory democracy and inspiring collective action.
The idea of a vibrant political and activist culture on the internet is one worth promoting. Movements like Kony 2012 hint at the potential of the internet to bring people together in an attempt to make positive change in the world. The significance of this notion of the internet is constantly understated. The message of the boundless possibilities that the internet and social media provide is arguably more momentous than tracking down and capturing a Ugandan rebel leader.
Another characteristic of the internet was highlighted with the quick rise and fall of the
Kony 2012 phenomenon. As fast as users can create such wide support for a cause, they can take a closer look at the issue and begin to criticize whatever inadequacies or imperfections are apparent. A mere three days had gone by after the video was posted when links to articles scrutinizing the practices of Invisible Children. If as much energy was put into investigating government practice and policy as was put into criticizing Invisible Children, we would have a thriving and vibrant democracy on the internet.
It is unclear whether people will remain inspired enough to bring about positive change in the world, or whether the whole phenomenon will got forgotten altogether. In any case, the future of Kony 2012 holds dire consequences, not only for Kony himself and the people he terrorizes, but for the users of the internet and the vision they have for it.