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Joanne Fritz

KONY 2012 Campaign: Incredible and Polarizing

By March 13, 2012

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KONY 2012 Campaign Poster

It's hard to know just how to feel about the KONY 2012 social media campaign being waged by Invisible Children. The campaign broke less than a week ago, but the furor, both positive and negative, has been immense.

The 30-minute video about the Ugandan monster and warlord Joseph Kony went viral almost immediately and has now broken all records for social media sharing.

As an example of what social media can do, the campaign is a stunner. Allyson Kapin of Frogloop pointed out the classic story construction of the video. Mashable declared that the goal of the campaign, which is to make KONY famous (or infamous), has been achieved and that is the measure of success. And there's no doubt that the strategies of putting famous people with large followings on the spot and providing easy-to-take action have worked.

On the other hand, there are many questions about whether this is the equivalent of a flash mob, whether the video is really truthful, and if Invisible Children has been transparent enough. The video also may be guilty of the Whites in Shining Armor syndrome, not to mention the question of where the money goes.

Invisible Children is incredibly media savvy. When criticism of the campaign arose, the organization handled its crisis management as sleekly as it did the social media campaign itself. Invisible Children CEO Ben Keesey has made numerous appearances on news outlets and now has released a video that addresses some of the transparency concerns.

One thing is certain -- KONY 2012 will serve as a case study in social media for a while. It hits on so many issues, from how the West views social issues in developing countries, to organizational transparency, to the power and danger of the imagery now so available through social media.

What was your first reaction to KONY 2012? Has it changed as the campaign took off and critics emerged? Let us know in the comments.


March 13, 2012 at 10:42 am
(1) Roxanne Anderson says:

My first reaction was positive and impressed. When I heard criticism, I did some checking, and was satisfied with Invisible Children’s response. Some of this has to do with my personal background as a volunteer with an NGO working in Africa. I know about realities. I also know that as a white person working in Africa, you can come under fire simply because of your color, that is perceived by some as colonial or a “you think you are better so you go rescue them” mentality. However, I have noticed that my African friends in Africa are not the ones who attack my whiteness, or who despise my efforts, and I sense the same positive response from the indigenous participants in the Invisible Children campaign.

I am also very impressed with how social media campaign has raised awareness so quickly, and would like to see that happen more. There are so many areas of the world where people are suffering for various reasons of injustice, and if we can use our media networking to motivate people to do something about it, that is noteworthy. Some of our greatest battles are to get people who aren’t suffering to care about people in another part of the world who are and to take action. Invisible Children has done that. Cheers.

March 13, 2012 at 10:51 am
(2) nonprofit says:

Thanks so much, Roxanne, for your thoughtful comment. It is always so good to hear from people who have been “on the ground” and can speak from personal experience.

March 13, 2012 at 5:14 pm
(3) Claire Wagner says:

Joanne, I was glad to read something from you on this huge phenomenon. I’ve posted several interesting perspectives on it on my Facebook page. I especially like Roxanne’s comment – I couldn’t agree more, although I don’t have the experience of Africa that she does. Overall, I think we should emphasize the positive.

FYI, did you see Jon Stewart’s take on this? He was very sarcastic (andy funny), of course, but one important issue he brought up was the mainstream media’s frustration over how a video on YouTube could garner huge attention for an issue that some (like Anderson Cooper) have covered for years with almost no results.

Thanks as always for being here and keeping your finger on the pulse!

March 13, 2012 at 5:43 pm
(4) nonprofit says:

Hi Claire! I’m afraid I’m not very original on this issue. I waited to weigh in until a lot of other people did. I didn’t see Jon’s piece on this and I’m a big fan. I’ll have to look for it. I think we have to view the KONY campaign first as a super successful social media one and then consider whether it stands up to scrutiny on other aspects. I’m very conflicted at this point. Will be watching how it all plays out. It certainly is good for debate!

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