Kony 2012: A Revolution in Social Campaigns?

Kony 2012: A Revolution in Social Campaigns?

-- Guest post by Tina Cipara, George Mason University graduate student. 


“For the first time in history, the people of the world can see each other and want to protect each other. This changes everything.”

If you haven’t heard this quote by now, you may be in the minority. Excerpted from the viral documentary, Kony 2012, this is an idea that far transcends one lone social movement. It is a testament to an increasingly technological, global environment that has reinvented the wheel for social change campaigns. It is evidence of the power of social media in creating a “Global Village” that is impactful for social justice all around the world. In short, it is proof that the world as we knew it has been changed forever.

Since its release on March 5, Kony 2012 has received a record-breaking number of views on YouTube as well as Vimeo. In just six days, the 30-minute video received over 100 million hits, which to date makes it the most viral video of all time. They currently have over 3.5 million pledges and a sold out inventory, which is confirmation that their message has been well received. This popularity and effectiveness at getting people to take action, however, has not been met by everyone with open arms. 

In their investigation of the Kony 2012 phenomenon, the Pew Internet and American Life Project reported a number of differing views on the strategies used by the Kony 2012 creators, Invisible Children. One of the most prevalent criticisms is their oversimplification of the issue. As with most political human rights issues there are a number of complex and intertwined factors that are at stake. Oversimplifying and not taking all of these factors into consideration leads to a concern (for some) that deceptive framing could take place. According to a researcher at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Ethan Zuckerman, these simple narratives can actually cause damage.

None of Kony 2012’s critics are denying that simple messages work. It is well documented that they do. Rather, their concern is that the simplicity of this particular narrative does not provide its audience with the tools to make a real difference. Some have even pointed to the campaign as slacktivism, which refers to individuals who support an issue or cause by participating superficially and never truly devoting themselves to making a change. 

Due to its simple message and even simpler way to take action, there is no doubt that a certain level of slacktivism is a possibility and probably even a reality for the Kony 2012 campaign. Similarly, some may even suffer from single action bias whereby their single deed of purchasing the action kit is enough to satiate their desire to help.  After which they promptly move on. 

Are these criticisms valid? Absolutely. Should they be considered when evaluating the effectiveness of this campaign? No doubt. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Consider for a moment that the filmmakers at Invisible Children created a narrative that encompassed the entire northern Uganda situation. This narrative would spotlight a variety of injustices that extend far beyond Kony and the LRA. It would depict a grave and seemingly insurmountable problem of which no one individual can make a difference. In other words, it would create what Paul Slovic describes as psychic numbing.

In essence, psychic numbing refers to an individual’s tendency to withdraw from issues that are overwhelming or appear to be unsolvable. Had Invisible Children tried to tackle the entire Ugandan issue in one 30-minute documentary, it would have been nearly overpowering. Its viewers, though emotionally triggered by the devastation of the situation, would feel disempowered to do anything about it. As Slovic’s fitting quote from Mother Theresa articulates: “If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.”  

The complexity of the situation is without a doubt important to understanding the issue. That said, all education has to start somewhere. Perhaps the Kony 2012 narrative does not provide a holistic view of situation in northern Uganda, but what it does provide is a trigger for an individual’s knowledge gap, which can be used to stimulate additional information seeking according to Heath & Heath. It provides a simple, concrete example of the destruction of Kony’s regime all the while piquing interest in other parts of the issue. It is not meant as an education campaign, but rather an awareness campaign.

Though the campaign’s “Cover the Night” street initiative was less than successful, there’s one fact that no one can deny: Kony 2012 was a viral sensation.* It not only brought attention to the “bad guy” but also brought attention to the power individuals have in today’s society. The advent of social media has brought individuals on a global scale closer than ever before. It has provided a platform through which shared understanding is possible and information is no longer constricted by a relative few.

Kony 2012 wasn’t the first social movement to utilize social media and they certainly won’t be the last. The documentary did, however, pinpoint the importance of our changing environment and what it means for social injustice. It has also brought to light the power of younger generations and their ability to harness new media technologies for efforts toward social change. If nothing else, the filmmakers at Invisible Children showed the rest of the world that social media and its users are a force to be reckoned with. 

* Why Cover the Night largely failed to happen is an important unanswered question. Readers are encouraged to reply with their analysis of why people attended to this campaign in large numbers, but for the most part choose not to participate in the recommended manner.

--Tina Cipara is a recent graduate of the MA in Communication program at George Mason University. Her research interests include strategic communication and social change campaigns, the nexus of social media and co-creational public relations, and cultural implications of technology policy.

How New York's largest hospital system is predicting COVID-19 spikes

Northwell Health is using insights from website traffic to forecast COVID-19 hospitalizations two weeks in the future.

Credit: Getty Images
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • The machine-learning algorithm works by analyzing the online behavior of visitors to the Northwell Health website and comparing that data to future COVID-19 hospitalizations.
  • The tool, which uses anonymized data, has so far predicted hospitalizations with an accuracy rate of 80 percent.
  • Machine-learning tools are helping health-care professionals worldwide better constrain and treat COVID-19.
Keep reading Show less

Listen: Scientists re-create voice of 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy

Scientists used CT scanning and 3D-printing technology to re-create the voice of Nesyamun, an ancient Egyptian priest.

Surprising Science
  • Scientists printed a 3D replica of the vocal tract of Nesyamun, an Egyptian priest whose mummified corpse has been on display in the UK for two centuries.
  • With the help of an electronic device, the reproduced voice is able to "speak" a vowel noise.
  • The team behind the "Voices of the Past" project suggest reproducing ancient voices could make museum experiences more dynamic.
Keep reading Show less

Dark matter axions possibly found near Magnificent 7 neutron stars

A new study proposes mysterious axions may be found in X-rays coming from a cluster of neutron stars.

A rendering of the XMM-Newton (X-ray multi-mirror mission) space telescope.

Credit: D. Ducros; ESA/XMM-Newton, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
Surprising Science
  • A study led by Berkeley Lab suggests axions may be present near neutron stars known as the Magnificent Seven.
  • The axions, theorized fundamental particles, could be found in the high-energy X-rays emitted from the stars.
  • Axions have yet to be observed directly and may be responsible for the elusive dark matter.
  • Keep reading Show less

    Put on a happy face? “Deep acting” associated with improved work life

    New research suggests you can't fake your emotional state to improve your work life — you have to feel it.

    Credit: Columbia Pictures
    Personal Growth
  • Deep acting is the work strategy of regulating your emotions to match a desired state.
  • New research suggests that deep acting reduces fatigue, improves trust, and advances goal progress over other regulation strategies.
  • Further research suggests learning to attune our emotions for deep acting is a beneficial work-life strategy.
  • Keep reading Show less
    Surprising Science

    World's oldest work of art found in a hidden Indonesian valley

    Archaeologists discover a cave painting of a wild pig that is now the world's oldest dated work of representational art.

    Scroll down to load more…
    Quantcast