This is a guest blog post by Jack Herbert at CPR, our sister agency in Australia. It gained a lot of attention in the Australian media, and has hit the mainstream media this week in the UK. It looks at whether people’s preparedness to share a link on social media will translate into real world action – an issue we care a lot about here at 33 Digital. What do you think?
As an exercise in raising awareness, the Kony 2012 campaign has been a spectacular, stratospheric success.
Yesterday, Kony could have been a brand of ice cream for almost all the first world would have known or cared.
Today, Google Kony 2012 and you get more than 37 million returns. Across the world, people’s Facebook news feeds and Twitter feeds are jammed with Kony content; and internationally the mainstream media is jumping on board with coverage.
The campaign video – all 30 gruelling minutes of it – has been viewed close to 12 million times on YouTube and 10 million views on Vimeo. If this was a commercial movie there would be backslapping aplenty among the backers.
There is no doubt the video, which tells the story of film maker Jason Russell’s crusade to bring Ugandan terrorist leader Joseph Kony to justice by making him a household name in the first world, is compelling. From grass roots beginnings, to youth across the world undertaking their own rebellion, the tale takes us through the whole emotional spectrum, and finishes with clear instructions of how we can pressure decision makers and their influencers to act to bring Kony to justice.
But is vandalising our streets with posters on April 20, as the campaign calls on us to do, really going to have any impact? More importantly, will anyone remember KONY 2012 in five weeks’ time?
Sure, the video has roused many people into action. We immediately sympathise and feel obligated to help – so we share. We share the video through our networks accompanied by heartfelt captions aimed at convincing our networks to watch and share themselves. Those of us who feel particularly compelled to take action, may even form events and request followers who will blanket the streets with street art denizen Shepard Fairy-designed posters to raise awareness. These events sprung up so quickly that we accept without consideration.
The population of cynics theory, suggests that when the masses are spammed with messages calling for action, we immediately assume such message are illegitimate and dismiss them without further consideration. The emotional pulling power of the KONY 2012 video means the campaign has overcome this obstacle with great effect – so much so, that it would seem most people are failing to conduct even the most rudimentary research before jumping on board.
A quick Google search retrieves articles detailing concerns regarding the legitimacy of the KONY 2012 campaign, and the Invisible Children Inc (IC). The critics – who range from anonymous bloggers to Harvard professors – accuse IC of being shady, dangerous, and misleading the public for strategic purposes. IC’s financial statements are said to show that only around 30 per cent of donations go to direct services, while a million dollars a year is spent on “travel expenses” and a further million on the film-making business. Critics have also pointed to a photo of the three principals of the IC organisation posing with weapons and personnel of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, which has itself been accused of atrocities.
There are, of course, many conflicting views on this. For instance, some online commentators have argued that because IC is not primarily a service-provision organisation but a lobbying outfit that it is therefore not unreasonable that it spends the majority of its donated funds not on building schools but on making films and other influencing tactics. It’s also been pointed out that IC has 45 staff – and that therefore its million dollar wages bill is far from unreasonable.
These questions certainly demand answers, particularly as one of the principal calls to action for the Kony 2012 campaign is to buy a campaign kit, some of which sell for $225 USD.
Regardless we can assume that there is a need to hold Joseph Kony accountable for his actions, and there is no denying the IC has raised awareness of his existence.
But will the campaign be successful? Where will it all go from here?
What makes a campaign of this nature successful is its ability to gather support, and call those supporters to effectively lobby the decision makers who have the power to make change. Granted, the Kony 2012 website is very effective at doing so. It lists those deemed to be the 20 top key influencers, and the 20 top policy makers, and has made it exceptionally easy to push the message to these people.
The campaign’s big objective however, is to rally the proverbial troops across major cities for a one-night vandalising bender; slapping up posters, stickers and other propaganda supporting the campaign.
Living on the edge and plastering posters by a great of the street art scene – and thereby creating a visual presence for an “invisible” issue – is a clever way to engage young people.
But this event is to take place on 20 April, six weeks after the launch of the campaign.
Six weeks is a long to time to keep a generation with short attention spans interested.
My guess is that the planned day of action will not be as successful as supporters currently envisage. A cynic could say that the reason the “Cover the night” event is six weeks away is to generate as much income as possible from the supporters before the people forget about it.
Right now, however, enthusiasm is strong, even in nations like Australia, whose governments can do little directly to bring Kony to account, with Facebook groups and events are mushrooming. Will the new Foreign Affairs Minister support the ‘movement’? Unlikely. Support for an organisation whose credentials are strongly under question would not be a good look.
Will it have my support? No. But holding Joseph Kony accountable for his actions certainly does. And if the campaign has done nothing more than bring his existence to the public arena, then we must give it some credit – even if it turns out to be the money making scam the critics allege it to be.
First published on 8 March 2012 on http://interactive.cprcomm.com.au/news/holding-kony-2012-to-account.html