For those of you that don’t know who Joseph Kony is then I don’t blame you. He is an African warlord who has slaughtered tens of thousands of people over a 26 year ‘civil war’ and enslaved scores of children to boost his army. His actions have reverberated throughout Central Africa and the surrounding areas and he remains number 1 on the International Criminal Courts ‘Most Wanted’. He has mutilated people in the most horrendous ways (cutting off limbs, noses, lips etc) and he believes that he has been chosen by God, and a Chinese phantom, to cleanse the African nation. He is the very epitome of an evil man….and this year he became an Internet celebrity.
The story behind the Kony2012 video is quite simple. Invisible Children, a US based charity, has attempted to raise the awareness of Kony and his criminal group, the Lords Resistance Army, for the past decade. They have done this through Internet campaigns, letter writing campaigns, demonstrations, a mass protests in parks and a variety of other ways. Until March 5th 2012 their message did not have the impact that they had hoped. They feared that Kony’s crimes would go unanswered and that he would continue to slaughter at will.
Then they decided to put all their chips in one basket.
They made this video.
The video went viral faster than they could have possibly imagined. By weeks end they were already nearing 50 million views on YouTube (and another several million on an alternate video sharing site, Vimeo) and the video has been shared and passed on millions of times. Kony was suddenly in the Facebook and Twitter feeds of millions of people and mentioned on the mainstream news, politicians were talking about it and the world was screaming for action. Invisible Children, and especially their Creative Director Jason Russell, were inundated with interviews requests and publicity. The group was shocked by the response. As they say in the latest video:
“We didn’t see the tsunami coming. We turned around and we were all underwater”
This is unfortunately quite common for viral sensations. Many groups, games, charities etc try their hardest to achieve viral status but often they have not adequately prepared for what may happen. Every single move that your organisation has made since its creation will be heavily scrutinised at all levels. For Invisible Children they were slammed for their relationship with unsavoury allies in Africa, their accounting practices, their oversimplification of the complex issues, their naiveté etc etc. None of the people that were criticising Invisible Children were pro-Joseph Kony (it is truly impossible to support the monster) but rather thought that Invisible Children simply hadn’t thought everything through. All of this criticism got to Invisible Children and their most public spokesperson Jason Russell. Much of the personal criticism against Russell was unfair though the Kony2012 video did substantially feature Russell, and his son, so many of the less diplomatic members of the Internet latched onto the idea that he was a fair target.
Just days after the video was released, after Russell gave scores of interviews and went days without sleep, he had a very public mental episode and was hospitalised for exhaustion. With that Invisible Children lost their charismatic and public spokesperson and everything seemed to fall apart. The next video that they released in early April failed to catch on as much as the original and their ‘Cover the Night’ event, a global gathering of all the millions of Kony2012 members, was a failure. From then on Kony was forgotten and the Kony2012 campaign became an anecdote about how one should not run a social media campaign.
Cut to yesterday. Invisible Children releases a new movie:
Invisible Children is making one last ditch effort to save face and save their campaign to stop Joseph Kony. One must admire their pluck. Unfortunately this video fails in almost the same areas where the original one does. As of writing it has been viewed less than 60,000 times. The movie begins by explaining the problems that they faced in the original campaign and what they should do next. Their newest plan is to converge on Washington DC in November to protest the continued freedom of Joseph Kony.
Here’s where their campaign falls short. In the original Cover the Night campaign they asked for local communities to all come out of their homes and support Invisible Children. They should all undertake some sort of communal campaign (i.e. clean up a park or put up anti-Kony posters) and then all converge on one single spot to protest. This was a failure. It lacked the necessary planning and infrastructure to convince people to come out of their homes and supper them. The Invisible Children campaign left it all in the hands of the people and hoped that they would do something. Many didn’t. They simply stayed home and watched television. This doesn’t mean that the Millennial generation is lazy (they’re not…countless research has shows that this generation works substantially harder than previous ones) but it just means that it’s difficult to translate support through social media to support on the ground. The biggest problem was that in the original campaign the video made such an emphasis on sharing the video and raising awareness that many people considered their job to be over once they had clicked ‘share’, ‘like’ or ‘retweet’ and didn’t see a point to coming out in April because they had already done what the campaign had asked of them.
In the newest video they ask that people, once again, share the video and raise awareness and then converge on Washington to meet with the leaders of the US, EU, AU, Sudan, Congo, Uganda etc etc who will all come for a special summit to address the threat of Joseph Kony. I saw this and I wanted to scream. I could not believe that an organisation who had been so thoroughly schooled, in the most public way possible, about how to run a social media campaign could be so stupid.
Let’s look at logistics. In order to bring just the leader of just one nation to Washington DC you need months of pre-planning. Security must be worked out, hotels must be booked, police must be notified, routes to drive from one event to the other must be decided, visas must be arranged….it takes at least several months to work out even the most basic of details and it is often done with the highest members of each government and hundreds of representatives in the advance team. Now imagine that there were ten leaders coming at once, on one day, to one city. The entire city would have to be shut down. Not only that but the campaign asks that hundreds of thousands of people (if not millions) travel from around the world to attend this mythical summit. They ask that they all converge on this one small city.More logistical problems (even if the world leaders weren’t booking the majority of the hotels) occur when you add substantially more people than the infrastructure could potentially handle. You’re also asking people from around the world, from Europe, Asia, Australia, the Middle East etc etc, to fly to America. Do the Invisible Children movement have any idea how much a plane ticket is these days? You’re giving people a one month warning that they have to fly internationally. That’s not nearly enough time. If people weren’t willing to go out to their local park or community centre in the name of the Kony2012 campaign then why would they fly all the way to the USA?
Secondly they’ve also done the exact same thing in which they ask people to share the video amongst their friends. Yes, asking people to share a video is fine, but it has to be backed up with something else….and asking them to travel to America isn’t it. Politicians and decision makers listen to the will of their constituents. The best way to make them listen is to go back to the basics: the petition. I can’t tell you how important petitions and letter writing campaigns are to politicians. It will do far more than the Washington DC rally ever will.
I admire Invisible Children, I really do. I like them and I like their Creative Director Jason Russell. But I can’t imagine why they’re putting themselves through this again. They’ve seen what happens to causes when they fail. They made Joseph Kony an Internet celebrity but at the same time they made themselves a global joke. I truly hope that I’m wrong about this and that their mission in Washington on November 17 is a huge success. I hope that Joseph Kony is arrested and brought to trial for what he did against the million of innocent Africans that he has killed, wounded or left homeless and the tens of thousands of children that he has forced into his brutal army. But for now….I remain a skeptic.