Kony 2012: Social Issues & Social Media

In the last week a new meme has absolutely taken over the Internet and ignited a passionate following concerning the charity organization Invisible Children and their 30 minute video chronicling the plight of the Ugandan people and the rebel army leader Joseph Kony.  Over a period of 20-plus years as the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Kony has amassed over 30,000 child soldiers in Northern Uganda until he was forced out of the region over six years ago.  Invisible Children created the video to bring immediate action and focus to the plight of the Ugandan people, and it accrued over 70 million views in a little over a week due to a massive influx of sharing on Twitter and Facebook, which is quite a substantial number compared to any other successful viral video.

Just as quickly as the video was gaining momentum it also gained some criticism and skeptics.  People began to analyze the exact portion of the proceeds Invisible Children was actually donating to the cause, and the right wing leaning politics of the organization’s founders and main contributors.  No matter what actual politics are behind the video, it’s still an overwhelmingly altruistic and poignant meme that has obviously captured the minds and attention of millions of people around the globe, but what does the video’s success tell us about the power of Social Media to captivate an audience and will this momentum dissipate as quickly as the next meme appears?

Invisible Children was definitely able to understand exactly what demographic they were reaching out to and the best away to approach them.  Through a 30-minute viral video they gained a massive younger audience that otherwise would have never heard of or only been familiar with Kony in a passing notion.  As Jon Stewart pointed out on The Daily Show this week, almost every news outlet has done some sort of piece about Kony and the plight of Uganda over the last few years, including numerous stories on CNN, but it took just a single viral video to gain the attention of a younger more tech savvy demographic to really put this movement into motion.

The one aspect people are beginning to contemplate considering the Kony meme is how much traction will it really be able to sustain?  As anyone who’s familiar with the Internet, the most fickle people online are the ones that are constantly searching for the next big thing.  Sometimes even memes concerned with social issues give way to more entertaining and vacuous ones, or some that are covering more topical social issues altogether, like the natural disasters of Haiti, Japan, and New Orleans.

The important thing though is no matter how long Kony and this video is trending for, the attention and funds raised through it are still substantial enough to make a difference.  Invisible Children set out to bring focus to an extremely important social injustice, and they’ve gained more attention then they probably ever expected, so maybe they’re already accomplished what they’re set out to do.  Now it’s really up to the people who have made this such a massive success to not lose sight of it overnight and to actually sustain interest long enough to make a difference.  The meme is really only as impactful as the actions that follow it, and hopefully it can maintain even a portion of the initial reception.

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