One Year Later: What Happened to #stopKony?

BY Christina Bellantoni and Katelyn Polantz  April 19, 2013 at 7:04 PM EDT


The Daily Download’s Lauren Ashburn and Howard Kurtz discuss the #stopKony movement’s effectiveness with PBS NewsHour’s Christina Bellantoni.

The Kony 2012 video skyrocketed to almost 100 million views on YouTube in the course of one year. But was a nonprofit group’s attempt to make the African warlord a household name effective if he’s still in power?

Lauren Ashburn and Howard Kurtz of the Daily Download explored the #stopKony movement with me in a special web-only segment. The key question — one year after activists promised that the world would know Joseph Kony’s name — did it work?

“There was something about it — maybe because it was such an odd phenomenon — that caused it to catch fire,” Kurtz said. “What we learned in even the most viral of videos, the Internet is far better at enlightenment than enforcement.”

But perhaps the unfulfilled momentum wasn’t for lack of passion from the Kony campaign’s supporters. An Australian newspaper looked at the finances of Invisible Children, the group that launched #kony2012 and the viral video, and found that the largest portion of money it took it in last fiscal year went toward promotions.

As we noted in the segment, the effort is still alive, despite officials suspending the manhunt earlier this spring.

But Alex Naser-Hall, a spokesman for the Invisible Children group, sent us this story which reports that Ugandan authorities have said they would resume the search after “requisite consultations” with the African Union and United Nations.

Naser-Hall took issue with Kurtz’s statement questioning “concrete results” from the effort, and pointed us to the group’s year-in-review roundup.

“There has been so much progress made since the film’s launch and the public response,” he said. “However, as you all discussed in your clip, the main objective of the campaign — seeing Joseph Kony arrested — has yet to be completed. A ton of progress has been made, though, by the U.N., A.U., Ugandan Military, U.S. advisers, etc. They’re getting closer.”

Naser-Hall added it is the group’s hope that “these discussions continue until he is captured.”

His comments echo the perspective of other nonprofit group leaders. In most cases, the strategy with social media is to tell the story of the nonprofit.

AdAge spoke with the founder of a creative studio who worked on the Kony project after it went viral. “Usually in the nonprofit space, it’s about storytelling and visuals and making sure the donation platforms work. This was a totally different kind of beast,” Javan Van Gronigen said in the article.

Kelly Williams, vice president of marketing and communications for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, one of the largest U.S. charities, echoed him in an interview with the PBS NewsHour. A video that finds millions of viewers is “always absolutely awesome,” she said, but that the goal overall of marketing content online is to drive donations.

Big Brothers Big Sisters posted a series of webisodes beginning in November 2011 that told stories of mentor relationships. The projects’ view counts haven’t been enormous — they’re downright modest by Kony standards, with some 3,000 to 5,000 views per episode. But by the last episode’s release one year later, online donations to the group had jumped 7 percent. That money may not intensify the public’s activism in the operation, but it does allow an organization to expand.

“Its all integrated. It all works together,” Williams said.

Invisible Children has a new video on its site, and it concludes with a fundraising ask. Watch it below.

And here is the story Lara Logan recently did about Kony for 60 Minutes.