‘Kony’ a milestone in social media

‘Kony’ a milestone in social media (credit: Adelaide Cole/Art Editor) ‘Kony’ a milestone in social media (credit: Adelaide Cole/Art Editor)
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On March 5, the non-profit group Invisible Children released the video “Kony 2012,” which details the brutal war crimes of Joseph Kony, head of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), including coercing children to become soldiers. Invisible Children activists not only raise awareness of Kony’s inhumane actions, but also direct military intervention and giving aid to the the Ugandan military.

The “Kony 2012” campaign has done more than just raise awareness about the war criminal Kony. It has harkened a new era for social activism and political awareness — one that utilizes the recent surge in social media usage.

In less than a month, it has amassed over 84 million views thanks to its viral marketing campaign, which gained massive attention through social media platform giants such as Facebook and Tumblr.

This is not the first time that social media has helped raise awareness of political issues. However, “Kony 2012” is singular in its widespread circulation. It made the rounds on sites such as Tumblr, which has a reputation for circulating political interest stories from varying perspectives such as the corruption of Hosni Mubarak, police brutality during the peak of the Occupy movements, and the death of Trayvon Martin.

While professional media sources presented information on the “Kony 2012” movement, its exposure was greatly assisted by people posting links on their profiles and blogs. One of the most notable examples I saw was a video by a Ugandan citizen giving her opinion on “Kony 2012” reblogged thousands of times on Tumblr. This unique viewpoint could never have been seen so widely before social media became popular.

In the days after the “Kony 2012” video was released, it was impossible to look on your Facebook newsfeed and not see references to the video. While Tumblr is based on the idea that you can follow any person or organization without personally knowing the individual or group, Facebook is geared almost exclusively toward social networking with people you know.

As such, most posts on Facebook are aimed toward disseminating personal information. While there are occasional political debates, they are often isolated to one conversation or one picture.

Invisible Children’s campaign shattered that notion and has opened up an entirely new venue for viral, grassroots campaigning.

However, it is dangerous to ignore the pitfalls of a campaign such as “Kony 2012.” As benign a cause “Kony 2012” may appear to be, it is also biased, and some aspects of the video are misleading. For example, Kony and the LRA have not been active in Uganda since 2006, making the idea of sending aid to the Ugandan government questionable, especially given the Ugandan government’s own history of using child soldiers.

Regardless of how accurate “Kony 2012” is, the video’s immediate dispersion through Facebook and Tumblr has opened a new realm of possibilities for grassroots activism. It would not be surprising if other campaigns in the near future mimic the marketing strategy that Invisible Children used.

While this is wonderful in terms of spreading information, we cannot be content to merely reblog a video or buy action kits.

It is too easy for sincere activism to degenerate into something trendy. We have to thoroughly research organizations and the causes that they support and remain persistent above all.