Invisible Children, a U.S.-based advocacy group, staged a media coup last week with its 30-minute web video about Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and his purported crimes against the people of this country. The video has been viewed more than 55 million times on YouTube since going live earlier last week, and #Kony 2012 continues to trend worldwide on Twitter.
The slickly produced video accuses Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army of abducting, mutilating and murdering thousands of Ugandan children who served as foot soldiers and sex slaves in the LRA’s rebel forces from the late 1980s, when the group first rose to prominence, to 2006.
After releasing the video on YouTube and Vimeo a little over a week ago, the group aggressively promoted it via its social networks. By enlisting stars like Justin Beiber and Rihanna to “Stop Kony,” the message spread like wildfire on Twitter and Facebook over the course of several days. Even Oprah Winfrey got involved by donating over $2 million to group via her Oprah Winfrey Foundation.
But almost as quickly as it gained supporters, the video has also attracted its fair share of detractors. In recent days, many activists, aid workers and Africans have cried foul about the video and the group behind its production. Journalists like Michael Wilkerson argue that the video sacrifices accuracy for impact. While the video supports a simple goal — capture Kony — Wilkerson points out that this alone would not eradicate the problems facing Ugandans, who are still caught in the crosshairs of a war-torn country.
“The film sends the message that Kony is the sole source of evil in this part of the world and simply by sending in $30 for an action kit you’ve solved this problem,” says Africa expert at the Atlantic Council, J. Peter Pham, in a USA Today article.
The video also calls for U.S. military intervention, but fails to acknowledge that the U.S. has been training Ugandan forces for several years. As recent as last October, the Obama administration dispatched 100 U.S. troops to assist the Ugandan military (in an advisory capacity) in its hunt for Kony and his LRA fighters.
But supporters of Invisible Children, like former child abductee Jacob Acaye (who is also featured in the controversial video), are quick to argue that the video raises awareness of a humanitarian crisis that many in the West know little about. Acaye, now 21 and studying law in Kampala, told The Guardian earlier last week that, “Until now, the war that was going on has been a silent war.”
The Center for American Progress’ Sarah Margon also credits the group’s grassroots mobilization efforts for contributing to the passage of the 2009 LRA Disarmament and Northern Ugandan Recovery Act. This piece of legislation provided emergency aid that has been vital to rebuilding Northern Uganda.
Regardless of where you come down on Kony 2012, most media watchers agree that the video’s popularity highlights the growing power of web video and social media in shaping public opinion. It has already set new web traffic records, and even garnered a mention from White House spokesman Jay Carney last Thursday during his daily briefing.