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Phony Kony and the Power of Social Media Campaigns

Think back to 2012, specifically March 5. Where were you? What were you doing? Do you remember this infamous day and why it went down in internet history? On this day, the “Kony 2012” video was released, creating one of the biggest social media campaigns to ever hit the internet.

Image courtesy of Invisible Children.

I was in seventh grade when this video was released and I remember being swept away by the Kony frenzy. I wanted to take action. I wanted to get involved. My friends and I were begging our parents to hand over their credit cards so we could buy “action-starter” kits and feel like we were doing something good for the children in the video. I look back on this time now and feel embarrassed that I was so easily persuaded by a video and campaign that didn’t help as much as it advertised. But, I am blown away by the power this video had. “Kony 2012” was one of the first hashtag-driven campaigns to take over the internet. Celebrities and politicians donated money and blasted out the video. They were drawn into the movement too so it felt real.

Image courtesy of Invisible Children.

“Kony 2012” was created by the nonprofit Invisible Children with the simple goal to inform people about Kony and what he has done to the people of Uganda. It explained the horrific things Kony has done and they asked people to purchase kits full of posters that were meant to plaster the streets. Invisible Children wanted to get Kony’s name out into the world. They wanted to share the story and relied on the internet to help them out.

This campaign was started by a nonprofit in America who had no real stake in anything that was happening in Uganda. The 30-minute long video is narrated by one of the founders Jason Russel, a white man who has never been directly affected by Kony. One of the major critiques of this entire campaign was that although Invisible Children made a strong plea for people to take action, nothing they were asking people to do would make a big change. The campaign was also criticized online for turning Kony into somewhat of a celebrity. The video detailed many of the horrific things he has done, but it also put him on a platform that many people were upset with.

Founder Jason Russel, image courtesy of the Washington Post.

The “Kony 2012” video currently has 102 million views. Some artists can only dream of reaching this many people. The number of people who saw this video in early 2012 is what put this project at the forefront of using social media as a tool to run a campaign. The video was shared by millions of people on Twitter and supported by celebrities including Rihanna, Lady Gaga and even Barack Obama. It took the internet by storm and although the campaign never accomplished the goals it set out, it has been used as a stepping stone for other nonprofits.

Image courtesy of Invisible Children.

Social media has made it much easier for simple campaigns to turn into movements. But can a movement that gets started online have real-world effects? In the case of Invisible Children: No. But for other campaigns including #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, social media propelled these causes into the spotlight. “Kony 2012” had its faults, but it left its mark on not only the nonprofit world but also the world of social media. The power of these platforms is revolutionizing the way we connect with the world and address important issues in new ways.


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