When Social Media Campaigns Forget To Include The Ones They Aim To Save – The KONY 2012 case

A soldier who is able to see the humanity of the enemy makes a troubled and ineffective killer. –Chris Hedges, 2002.

We have been talking about the ways in which the Internet and social media platforms have served and keep serving as a powerful tool in social change. When used wisely, they are capable of bringing communities of people together not only to protest but also to support and mobilize resources towards change in a particular social or political issue.

The Arab Spring mobilizations in 2011 and the #Ferguson protests in 2014 are some of the examples in which the combination of real-time activism and online activism resulted in some forms of political and social change. But what happens when the online effort and the apparent support are ignoring the voices of those who they claim “need” the support?

This is the case of the Kony 2012 viral campaign. The movement was created by the organization Invisible Children as an attempt to end “eight years of demanding justice for LRA-affected communities [especially in Uganda] and watching Joseph Kony [leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army] get away with his brutal crimes,” states their webpage. The result of their campaign was more than hundred million views of their video on YouTube in one week, and 3.7 million people requesting the arrest of Joseph Kony. In words of Invisible Children, “It proved that if people knew about Kony’s crimes and were given the chance to help, they would step up.”

Internet users were not just asked to watch the YouTube video. They were also encouraged to follow the instructions on the video, tweet about it, like a Facebook page, send it to their friends, and order an “action kit” that they were to use in an event named “Cover the Night.” Although on the YouTube video, they clearly call for the arrest of Joseph Kony and the end of LRA’s violent activities , Invisible Children (2012) proudly point out “On April 24, 2012, we achieved the primary goal of the KONY 2012 campaign when President Obama publicly announced that he would reauthorize the U.S. mission to support the African Union in stopping LRA violence and arresting Joseph Kony.” They achieved to have an important role in sending more troops to Africa, but they have also recognized that [their] work is not done. The same vulnerabilities that have allowed him to violently exploit communities and wildlife in central Africa still exist, and have attracted other violent groups.

If the campaign seemed to have all that social influence, did it really lead to action? What can be the cause of fewer offline mobilization and the result of the required changes?

How does Kony 2012 inform our understanding of child soldiers? How does it sculpt international efforts to prevent child soldiering?

First, as Mark Drumbl, director of the Washington and Lee University’s Transnational Law Institute, reflects on his article Child Soldiers and Clicktivism: Justice, Myths, and Prevention, “How does Kony 2012 inform our understanding of child soldiers? How does it sculpt international efforts to prevent child soldiering?” He argues that this campaign portrays child soldiers as “passive clueless victims, as devastated, and as dehumanized tools of war robotically programmed to kill in purportedly senseless African wars.” They forgot to include these children’s voice when they don’t want to be incarcerated but actually, “[they] emphasize education, reconciliation, community reintegration, physical rehabilitation, medical care, conflict resolution, and jobs.

Second, Kony 2012 not only seemed to ignore the broader context of child soldiers, but it forgot other issues that the people from Uganda could be facing at that time like education and post-conflict restoration as noted by Toussaint Nothias, professor at the Standford University’s Center for African Studies (2013). The Kony 2012 video tried to communicate to its viewers the idea of being capable to stop the LRA violence by themselves, justifying at the same time the idea of demanding military intervention. As emphasized before, this was just one side of the story, while Uganda’s people started to protest about the misinterpretation of the things happening in Uganda and the sense of being left apart from any kind of “possible solution.” They created the hashtag #UgandaSpeaks with the idea of expressing their point of view and to critique the “one-sided” version of Uganda’s political and social situation.

After 2012 the only thing reduced has been the number of attacks and the killings, unfortunately the number of civilians abducted has even increased.

Finally, even though there seems to be a clear missing piece in the broader analyses of the conflict in Uganda, one of the Invisible Children’s main objective was to try to reduce LRA’s violence. So, the immediate question would be: has the violence been reduced in Uganda and nearby places? In 2015, Invisible Children created an online platform called the LRA Crisis Tracker. This platform “is a real-time mapping platform and data collection system created to bring an unprecedented level of transparency to the atrocities of the Lord’s Resistance Army” (LRA Crisis Tracker website).It reflects the data collected from “attacks, killings, and abductions committed against civilians by the LRA, with additional options to view violence against civilians by unidentified armed groups and other non-state armed groups in LRA-affected areas” (LRA Crisis Tracker website). If we click a couple of options and select the data from the first reports in 2000 until the last day of 2016, the graphic (see the graphic below) shows us how by 2010, even before the Kony 2012 campaign started, the killings, attacks and abductions’ drop out is really drastic. The interesting point here is that after 2012 the only thing reduced has been the number of attacks and the killings, unfortunately the number of civilians abducted has even increased.

  GRAPHIC KONY2012.pngGraphic source retrieved from https://www.lracrisistracker.com/




Drumbl, M. A. (2012). Child soldiers and clicktivism: Justice, myths, and prevention. Journal of Human Rights Practice, 4(3). Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/jhrp/article/4/3/481/2189423/Child-Soldiers-and-Clicktivism-Justice-Myths-and

Hedges, C. (2002). War is a force that gives us meaning. Anchor.

Invisible Children. (March 5, 2012). KONY 2012. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4MnpzG5Sqc

Invisible Children. (2015). The LRA Crisis Tracker. Retrieved from https://www.lracrisistracker.com/

Kony 2012. (n.d). Invisible Children. Retrieved from https://invisiblechildren.com/kony-2012/

Nothias, T. (2013). ‘It’s struck a chord we have never managed to strike’: Frames, perspectives and remediation strategies in the international news coverage of Kony2012. Ecquid Novi: African Journalism Studies, 34(1). Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/citedby/10.1080/02560054.2013.767438?scroll=top&needAccess=true


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