Kony2012 is the most viral video of all time, yet the campaign failed to maintain its momentum until the day of action coined “Cover The Night” on April 20, 2012.
Invisible Children’s film took to the web on March 5th of 2012 with phenomenal success in mobilizing the online community. The Guardian states: “More than 100m people have watched the film, 3.5m have pledged support and the US senate and House of Representatives have both signed resolutions to continue US involvement in the efforts to capture Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lords Resistance Army.”
However, the negative aftermath following the spread of the Kony2012 film clearly dampened the campaigns reputation and impacted the turnout of the ‘Cover The Night’ event.
The film was immediately criticized for misrepresenting the Ugandan situation, depriving Ugandans of a voice and misleading newly recruited activists on what is required to generate genuine reform. In addition to disapproval of the video content, Invisible Children faced intense criticism regarding their finances and lack of transparency on where raised funds are being expended.
The Kony2012 film was welcomed by a younger audience, Harvard states, “The younger generations can be transfixed and captivated by an idea, but their inner critique meant that if just one teeny tiny criticism or negative opinion about Kony2012 was actually true, then they were out. This was the chain of disinterested youth and unconvinced intellectuals that followed March 7th, which meant by April 20th ‘Cover The Night’ and Kony2012 were not even a dot on their radars”
Another major pitfall inhibiting the credibility of the campaign was the detainment of director and co-founder of Invisible Children, Jason Russell, on the evening of March 16, 2012 just 11 days after the films release. The Daily Telegraph states: “Kony2012 suffered a huge setback on March 19, when filmmaker Jason Russell stripped to his birthday suit and ran through the streets in San diego ranting about he devil.”
Russell is a 33-year-old father of two who took to fame as soon as the Kony2012 film was released. NBC San Diego reports Russell was allegedly found “masturbating in public, vandalizing cars and possibly under the influence of something.” He was detained by police and then sent to a medical facility.
Invisible Children CEO Ben Keesey released a statement stating: “
“Jason Russell was unfortunately hospitalized yesterday suffering from exhaustion, dehydration, and malnutrition. He is now receiving medical care and is focused on getting better. The past two weeks have taken a severe emotional toll on all of us, Jason especially, and that toll manifested itself in an unfortunate incident yesterday. Jason’s passion and his work have done so much to help so many, and we are devastated to see him dealing with this personal health issue. We will always love and support Jason, and we ask that you give his entire family privacy during this difficult time.”
Invisible Children activist and politics and sociology graduate Sarah Cooper comments on the connection between Russell’s detainment and the failure of the ‘Cover The Night’ campaign stating: “I don’t know know that Jason Russell’s arrest was to do with the ‘Cover The Night’ campaign being a flop… he worked so hard for something he genuinely believed in, but for what outcome? He had a lot of negative press attention but working in that kind of organisation where he is the main face of it it has to be a huge amount of pressure for anyone… just because you have a positive intention doesn’t mean it will have a good outcome.. sometimes awareness doesn’t necessarily change things… if your not going to back it up with an action that is historically, socially and culturally appropriate then your just going to create more damage.”
Social Intelligence engine Topsy Labs graphed twitter chatter around Kony2012 and related hashtags. The chart below shows the decline of Kony-related topics since the films release.
Topsy has recorded more than 12.5 million Twitter mentions about Joseph Kony and the Invisible Children film. The two biggest days for tweets were March 5, when the film was released and March 16, when director Jason Russell was detained.
Harvard states: “The way viral video works is that an online video starts small, grows in popularity until it saturates its audience and then once it has done so it then drops off the face of the World Wide Web.” The 12.5 million mentions on Kony-related topics in march, compared to less than half a million mentions during the first 18 days of April provokes the question of whether “Cover The Night” would have been more successful had it come closer to the video’s release?
The campaign aimed to plaster “every city, on every block” around the world with posters, stickers and murals of Kony to pressure governments into hunting down the guerrilla leader. The Guardian states: “paltry turnouts on Friday at locations across north America, Eurpoe and Australia left cities largely unplasters and the movement’s credibility damaged.” The Daily Telegraph also states: “Brisbanes official Cover The Night event sadly failed to disprove the widespread cynicism: the campaign was a flop.”
This brings to question, did Invisible Childrens campaign peak too soon? Did the films criticism and detainment of Jason Russell decredit the campaign to the point of failure? Or is Gen Y simply saturated with ‘slactivists’? The most likely conclusion is that all of those Kony2012 supporters who pledged to support the movement had simply moved on.