Today March 9th 2012 the documentary “Kony 2012” by Invisible Children is close to passing 50 mill hits on YouTube.
As the awareness of the campaign to stop Joseph Kony continues to spread like wild fire, criticism regarding the objectives and methods of the organization Invisible Children has started to appear all over the web arguing that the organization is over-simplifying and distorting the reality of the situation in East/Central Africa. As a co-worker of mine pointed out “As always reality is a little more messy”. History provides plenty of examples of how dangerous it is to oversimplify and not understand the full complexity of an issue. Just thinking of the US government’s involvement in the Middle East and Vietnam will remind you of that. The geopolitical complexity of an issue and the ramifications of action is clearly something that is highly relevant to discuss in the case of Joseph Kony and the actions of his LRA rebels, but I will leave that discussion to greater political minds.
The Kony 2012 campaign is although less important also very interesting from a communications and social behavior perspective. It’s not the 50 mill hits on YouTube in it self that makes the Kony 2012 an interesting case study. What does though, is the extraordinary accomplishment in the fact that 50 million people actually consumed a piece of content on YouTube that is 29 minutes and 59 seconds long. I don’t recall that ever happening before. So why are people drawn to this particular campaign? What is it about Kony 2012 that inspires people to view, share and participate? In the following I have highlighted a couple (of probably several) reasons that I believe answers these questions.
Simplicity in communication message
The simplicity in the presentation of the campaign is key. The fact that the objective is simple to understand and digest is the first reason. “Stop Kony” is easy to understand; one man, one picture, one problem. Again the The Kony 2012 campaign may over simplify the issue, but sometimes simplifying the complex is exactly what’s needed to gain attention and raise awareness. The path or means to how you as an individual can address the issue and solve the problem is also clear (at least in the presentation and minds of the Invisible Children). Make Joseph Kony famous by watching the video, sharing the video and participating in a massive overnight poster campaign, planned for April 20, 2012. In other words, the viewer is presented with a clear and simple problem and the tools to tackle the problem. Easy to understand and easy to relate to.
Yes we can
The second reason is the campaigns ability to evoke empowerment. Globalization has made the world smaller and every minute we are bombarded with information and impressions of suffering and injustice in places like Africa, the dangers of global warming, the potential consequences of debt crisis and so forth. As individuals it makes us uncomfortable and makes us want to do something – act! But often we end up feeling powerless to act and address these problems, believing that I alone can’t make a difference. The Kony 2012 campaign again shows people a way and how the objective can be achieved. It shows the audience how you can make a difference, not as an individual but as part of a collective. It shows how you are a part of a movement. The force of the many.
The Kony 2012 draws upon the exact same tools, mechanisms and rhetoric that President Obama so successfully managed to deploy in his 2008 election campaign. Obama managed to spark the hope of the people feeling powerless and became a symbol of how change can happen if people rally together. The mechanism and tools to spread the message both used by Obama and Kony 2012 is of course social media. Over the last couple of days we seen the power of those tools at work, millions of tweets and status updates from all over the world has resulted in every single news source in the world picking up on the story.
In terms of awareness and support I don’t think the Invisible Children in their wildest dreams could have imagined the amount of publicity they are currently getting. They have already achieved the objective of making Joseph Kony famous. How? by simplicity in their communication and their ability to mobilize the masses through social media and the “yes we can” attitude.
Will this campaign result in the successful removal of Joseph Kony? Maybe, Kony is indicted by the International Criminal Court and US forces have or will be deployed. Is the Invisible Children’s simplistic approach the right one? Maybe not. What I am pretty sure of however is that the world will be a better place without Joseph Kony.