Can a slick video help secure the arrest of a Ugandan warlord?
Joseph Kony, leads the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army, a group known to kidnap children, training boys as child soldiers and sexually abusing girls. Earlier this week, a US-based nonprofit organization, Invisible Children, launched a 30 minuite doco, “KONY 2012” which aims to make Kony known throughout the Western World. It has gone viral.
By introducting millions of people to Kony’s brutality, the filmmakers hope to create a movement that pressures the US Government to continue using their resources to arrest the leader. “In order for people to care, they have to know,” said Jason Russell, the film’s director.
On Thursday 8 March the New York Times reported
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.
According to Isaac Hepworth, who works for Twitter, four days after its release 9.45 million tweets contained the words “Kony” or #StopKony .
Danah Boyd, a social media researcher, told The New York Times that the video went viral partly because film’s message “can be encapsulated into a hashtag.” And, according to Boyd, Invisible Children already had “a strong network of people who are, by and large, young, passionate, active on social media, and structurally disconnected from one another.”
The successful campaign, however, has also received some backlash.
A student from Nova Scotia created a blog called Visible Children which critically analyses the charity, particularly questioning their use of donations.
Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at M.I.T wrote several highly astute criticisms of the campaign on his blog, including its oversimplification – which could unintentionally bolster support for the Yoweri Museveni, the dictatorial and kleptocratic leader of Uganda.
African bloggers and activists have also criticised the campaign for focusing on American intervention, rather than local solutions.
In a YouTube clip, Rosebell Kagumire, a Ugandan blogger said, “this is another video where I see an outsider trying to be a hero rescuing African children. We have seen these stories a lot in Ethiopia, celebrities coming in Somalia, you know, it does not end the problem.”
But if Russell had “complicated” the message, would his film have gone viral, and captured the attention of millions of people? At least now, people are thinking and discussing African conflict, a topic that rarely trends on twitter.