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March Editorial: KONY 2012 Secures Social Media for Global Activism

Byline: by Laura B. Hans

Posted: March 28, 2012

The Invisible Children’s "Kony 2012" campaign secured the legitimacy of social media as a tool for global social engagement. On Wed, March 7 their film went viral. In a March 12 article on Mashable.com, by Todd Wasserman, it was reported that the Kony 2012 film had more than 100 million views in six days, making it "the most viral video in history."

If you did not catch on, Joseph Kony is the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a rebel group that operates in Congo, The Central Africa Republic and South Sudan. The LRA is known for its inhumane war crimes against women and children.

On March 7, around noon, a friend living in New York City posted the YouTube video on her Facebook wall. Throughout the day I watched many other friends posting the video on Facebook from around the country. #StopKony was also trending on Twitter that day. Based on the Facebook posts and tweets, it seemed as though people were watching the video ,and as if the public perception had changed quickly with the help of social media. The Kony 2012 campaign had an immediate impact producing a global response.

An idealistic hope exists that the Internet can remain useful for ethical social activism. But, what should we make of it all? Is this just another media spectacle, commodified activism or an example of a contemporary participatory democracy? Time will tell if this social media campaign will bring tangible international justice. The Internet has become an alternative public sphere and hopefully activists can use it as a tool to produce a freer and happier world.

The new media environment we live in is a participatory media environment.

In the Kony 2012 case, Internet users distributed content for political ends. The Invisible Children non-governmental organization (NGO) circulated information, helped organize demonstrations, promoted anti-Kony activities and raised money for their cause.

Criticism towards the film reveals that while it let viewers understand what is happening in Uganda, the film targets leaders from the United States to take action, it does not prompt the Ugandan government. They may have over simplified and the issues and dramatized the facts surrounding the issue. They may also have questionable fund management as an NGO, but their mission, to some, appears ethically good; they want to raise awareness about Uganda and the current war crimes and abuse that occurs there.

Kony 2012, despite and including its recent controversy, is undoubtedly a significant piece of culture. It was produced, distributed and consumed. Media consumers ought to understand its significance, as this is an example of technopolitics. That is, the use of new technologies to advance political goals.

Last Updated: February 24, 2013

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