Engaging Internet #4 – Invisible Children’s Stop Kony Campaign’s Legitimacy & Significance, by Andrew Bennink
This blog post is based on information derived from several news articles that broke in the late afternoon or late evening regarding Invisible Children‘s Stop Kony Campaign- the former including one from the Brisbane TImes and a latter one from good ol’ Mashable. If you haven’t heard by now, Joseph Kony, the Ugandan cultish rebel leader who has “earned” a human-rights indictment for his atrocities, is suddenly under incredible viral scrutiny from all the world at once because of a campaign that was initiated this week by a US non-profit called Invisible Children. The basis of Kony 2012 is a 30 minute video that drew viewers primarily from Youtube and Vimeo. This simple video generated 11 million Youtube views and approximately 1.8 million Facebook Likes in less than 48 hours.
The only online video of any remote comparison I can come up with off the top of my head, and it’s not really a comparison, is the Zeitgeist video, which was primarily hosted on an external website. But the #StopKony movement makes any steam Zeitgeist earned look microscopic, and one video is about a 9/11 theoretical US government conspiracy… the other an urgent real life social cause. The only real comparison is that they both created a viral stir and they are both over a half hour long, two attributes that tend to be mutually exclusive. Still, big difference.
The goal of the campaign, as summarized by PBS News: “[The campaign] urges viewers to contact these 40 prominent people [’20 culture-makers and 12 policy-makers’] through Twitter, telephone and other means, and pressure them to speak out or act. But the campaign also has generated an online outburst of criticism of Invisible Children for its fund-raising methods and its message, among other things.” Whether or not the culture-makers and policy-makers are successfully engaged by these efforts remains to be seen, but both PBS and Mashable both fairly criticized how Invisible Children operates as a non-profit.
It seems that Invisible Children fails to comply with the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. Visible Children, not to be confused with campaign runner Invisible Children, has taken a rooting interest in the campaign and its leader and provided the following official comment: “‘Invisible Children has been condemned time and time again. As a registered not-for-profit, its finances are public. Last year, the organization spent $8,676,614. Only 32% went to direct services (page 6), with much of the rest going to staff salaries, travel and transport, and film production. This is far from ideal, and Charity Navigator rates their accountability 2/4 stars because they haven’t had their finances externally audited.”‘ Source: Mashable. The article provides an additional criticism that has recently emerged: “Others across the Twittersphere have accused KONY 2012 of promoting slacktivism — the idea that sharing, liking or retweeting will solve a problem — across the social web. ” So there are well-founded concerns about this movement. However, it doesn’t change the revolutionary response that it’s generated.
Australian social media expert James Griffin of SR7 explains: ‘”A typical YouTube video is about 2 1/2 minutes long. If we believe what [social media users] say about watching the video, then [Invisible Children] has done a very good job in crafting a narrative that has inspired people to do something.”‘ Source: (Brisbane TImes). What’s immediately obvious is it is unprecedented for either a 3rd world social cause or a 30 minute video of any kind to get this level of worldwide attention in such a short span of time.
However, it is as yet unclear what the video has actually gotten people to do, other than set the internet on fire. What of donations, political & celebrity influence, legislative initiatives, and other real life potential changes that would actually make a difference? Those results we don’t know yet, and this news being released that questions the legitimacy of Invisible Children as a reliable non-profit will only hinder these theoretical positive outcomes. Metronews however, a Canadian source, provided the following defense of Invisible Children’s strides:
“Pressure generated through YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have been credited in part with swaying political stances in the uprising against former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. At least one high-ranking American official — Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy — has publicly acknowledged the swell of support for Invisible Children’s cause. ‘Glad to see so many care about #stopykony. #Humanrights abuses in central Africa are egregious & shining a spotlight is essential. #LRA,’ read a Thursday tweet from an account linked to his office. ‘I will continue to focus attention & funding on #stopkony thru @StateDept. budget panel that I lead. #LRA.”‘ Source: Metronews.
So there is some evidence that Kony 2012 will in fact have some immediate effect on political and cultural influence, but the fact remains that viral success does not always translate to lasting attention- there is significant danger that this campaign is already on the downswing and is in the process of being forgotten with those initial Hashtags fading out of date.
But because all the viral attention Invisible Children generated thus far is fairly unprecedented outside of Rebecca Black (and definitively historic for a non-profit/3rd world social cause), the world is going to get a real chance to see what executing a historic social media campaign actually gets you in the real world. The legitimacy issues are a big disappointment because they will hamper donations, the key short term ROI component of the campaign, but still, we don’t often get case studies regarding social media that have a giant spotlight on them with all the world demanding all the information and saturation they can get. As long as that demand remains, this could be a very exciting time for measuring social media campaign metrics that you won’t find on any Google Analytics or Ad Words page and seeing how long the world’s collective attention really lasts, and what it truly means beyond just the screen.
Coming later today is a look at Facebook Sponsored Ads, but Kony had to break first. So until then enjoy yourself, & happy surfing, liking, clicking and sharing.