Much has been said about Invisible Children’s video campaign to rally awareness towards the atrocities of Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony.
But more important is what Kony 2012 means in our ongoing relationship with viral news events. It’s time to uncloak the “invisible” social media.
The Kony 2012 campaign idealises the ethos of social media activism. Jason Russell, Invisible Children’s co-founder, explained it quite effectively in the opening seconds of his Kony 2012 video:
“Right now there are more people on Facebook then there were on the planet 200 years ago. Humanity’s greatest desire is to belong and connect. We hear each other. We share what we love. And this connection is changing the way the world works.”
What a resonating, powerful statement.
Only there’s one problem: we can’t actually hear each other. At least not on the Kony 2012 YouTube video.
That’s because all comments have been removed, 500,000 of them. The comment feature – now “disabled” – means not a single piece of feedback now exists on a YouTube video with more than 84 million views in 15 days.
The fastest-trending viral video, ever. YouTube has not given an official explanation. It’s hard to believe that the inability to comment could be due to traffic. I mean, there are Justin Bieber videos around with 7,666,565 of them.
Just like Kony’s activities in Uganda, increasingly corporatised social media would very much prefer to remain invisible. Social media has come of age and “grown-up” into corporate mandates and business models. They need to answer to shareholders and investors.
We can share what we love, but we can’t share what we don’t. At least not when and where it matters most – on the Kony 2012 video itself. Isn’t that the whole point of social media?
YouTube’s actions are shocking, especially considering the theme of the video and nature of the campaign. Many would argue that it’s outright censorship. We are told to listen, share and connect to empower others across the planet, yet the ability to listen and connect on the content and platform itself has been conspicuously taken away from us.
Does this mean we shouldn’t trust social media? Absolutely not. But ignorance isn’t bliss in this case. As David Skok at Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab notes, it’s time to separate our stories from our storytelling tools.
16 days, 84,425,037 views, and a game that lets us “Kick Kony’s *&$”, Kony 2012 isn’t as “interactive” as most of us would like to believe.
In social news media, our participation is sandboxed. We play inside the framework of online media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, subject to various external forces: algorithms, other people’s search queries – and of course – operating and advertising budgets.
As London School of Economic’s Eilika Freund argues, we don’t interact as much as we respond. In the case of the Kony 2012 YouTube video, we can’t even respond. When we are provided with an opportunity to participate, it’s often with pre-existing narratives, which – like Kony 2012 – have already had the opportunity to make their impact. Not exactly a media suitable for civil discourse.
Within social media, our responses, whether positive – endorsements, comments, “likes” and “shares” – or negative – factual challenges, criticisms, and questions – are part of the exact same medium we use to share the story. This is a fundamental problem, and the YouTube Kony 2012 video is the perfect example of why it is problematic.
Can we remove a share? “Dislike” a Facebook post? “De-Tweet” a story link on Twitter?
Further, how we obtain news – as well as our understanding of news events – increasingly arrives through our social networks, pushed to us through connections we trust.
Just like Google says, this stuff matters.
Social media adds yet another layer of mediation to complex events like the Kony 2012 campaign. In the words of Hewlett-Packard scientist Bernardo Huberman, online audiences are stuck in “feedback loops of attention”.
Many believe that negative response to the Kony 2012 campaign has helped to invalidate the cause, and that the arrest of co-founder Jason Russell has derailed its purpose.
Perhaps. But viral news leaves us little time to consider and reflect before we help spread the news. In this sense, it is essential to see social media as selectively social. Not selective because we of what we share, but selective because of how we share.
Credibility in news has changed: it’s less a function of in-depth, investigative journalism, or even common sense. It has been outsourced to audiences by social media.
Friends, co-workers and acquaintances now play an increasing part in the “aggregated trustworthiness” which leads us to our news. Of course, this happened long before social media. But news in social media is inherently loaded – and not with just a editorial slant – it’s tainted with our relationships.
Trust is the channel through which we consume news and our feelings, emotions and interpretations of others now play part. Facebook even has a patented formula for it - it’s called EdgeRank.
As we consume news as well as research it, we should consider what participation really means and think about how we form credibility around complex news topics we encounter in social media. It’s a matter of perspective.
Kony 2012 is a Social Media Case Study For the Masses
[dropcap style=”alt”]M[/dropcap]arch 6th, 2012, social media addicts and meme creators got their new explosion of fodder for their various channels of expression. After millions of Youtube views and a bombardment of tweets coming in at a speed even Justin Bieber could not match, Joseph Kony became an internet sensation, for all the wrong reasons.
What is Kony 2012 all about?
In case you are late to the party, Kony 2012 is a campaign launched by a non-profit organization called, Invisible Children. Invisible Children describes themselves as,
We are storytellers, activists and everyday people who use the power of media to inspire young people to help end the longest running armed conflict in Africa. We make documentaries, tour them around the world, and lobby our nation’s leaders to make ending this conflict a priority.
But we don’t stop there. Our development professionals from Central Africa partner with local communities to implement and maintain education programs and economic initiatives in the war affected region. Recovering communities require stability when it comes to education and economic initiatives, but the ever-changing conflict demands innovative solutions and quick mobilization. Our initiatiatives attempt to meet the region’s need for both stability and flexibility.
Their mission is to see Joseph Kony, a Ugandian warlord who has forecefully recruited over 30,000 children to fight in his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
The campaign is designed to make Kony “famous,” so in hopes the uproar would cause America to lead a charge in capturing Kony and holding him responsible for the war crimes he has committed. The charge is led primarily through social media with a plea to raise money to build awareness of the issue, provide care for children who have been kidnapped by the LRA, and educating them in a safe environment.
More can be seen by watching this video:
KONY 2012 from INVISIBLE CHILDREN on Vimeo.
How has social media benefited this campaign?
[dropcap style=”alt”]F[/dropcap]rom celebrities supporting the campaign through their tweets to Youtube and Vimeo videos rising to the tens of millions of view in less than a day, social media has propelled Joseph Kony into national and international spotlight and causing people to talk.
Celebrities like Oprah, Rihanna Bill Gates, and Justin Bieber have all taken to their twitter accounts asking their millions of followers to join the cause:
Social Media Stats
- At the time of this posting, there have been almost 41 million Youtube views of the Stop Kony video posted above, along with almost 14 million on Vimeo.
- There were more posts on Facebook about Kony on March 6th and 7th than even Apple’s new iPad or TV releases.
- According to USA Today, Diddy’s tweet: “Dear Joseph Kony, I’m Gonna help Make you FAMOUS!!!! We will stop YOU #StopKONY ! All 6,OOO,OOO of my followers RT NOW!!! Pls!” has retweeted 62, 287 times
- On Twitter, #stopKony became a worldwide trending topic overnight!
So, what has all this uproar actually done for Invisible Children?
[dropcap style=”alt”]W[/dropcap]ell besides crash their website, it has created a heated conversation of whether the organization does any good in Africa and more specifically, there has been a bombardment of mud-slinging in how the non-profit utilizes the money they receive. This blog article is not to pick sides on whether Invisible Children have used their funds properly or the effect they are having in Uganda, but rather to highlight how they have responded to the allegations in a way social media users can learn from.
Three Take-Aways from How Invisible Children Responded
1. Don’t Pick a Fight, but Stand Your Ground
Rather than going after the nay-sayers or staying silent on their allegations, Invisible Children addressed the negative remarks within hours of the comments. They did not name names or call the blogs liars, but rather remind everyone of what their mission is and what they are after. Key: when you are after social good, stay on point and bring people back to common ground you can all agree on
2. Be Able to Back Up Your Talk
One of the main critiques is that out of the money coming into the organization, very little actually went to stopping Kony and rescuing the children. Being a 501c3 non-profit, Invisible Children’s financials were already available to the public, but they took it a step further and made an informative and aesthetically pleasing graphic.
3. Keep the Mission Moving
While the criticism continues to come in, it does not silent the mission Invisible Children is on. Furthermore, it is spurning people to do their own research and see the good that Invisible Children is doing for the nation. While watching a video on Kony does not make you an activist, Invisible Children’s goal of making Kony famous is being accomplished, and probably beyond anything they ever expected.
What are your thoughts on how Invisible Children is using social media to make Kony famous? Do you think it is an effective tool?
Kyle is the Founder of N2Q and makes a personal investment in the management of each project. Kyle is an SEM/social strategist with over 10 years experience in optimizing websites, finding audiences, building websites and using organic content and digital advertising to create engaging social communities. He will be your expert on social media platforms, display advertising, and marketing collateral. He has worked for large companies like Microsoft, Salesforce, John L. Scott Realty, and Farmers Insurance as well as small businesses locally and as far as Africa and Switzerland.