In one of the most ambitious viral marketing campaigns in internet history, activists are hoping the web can take down one of the world’s most wanted war criminals, Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Army.
The internet exploded in response to a video about Kony, the fanatical Ugandan man who heads the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a violent rebel group that says it wants to rule by the Ten Commandments but is known for committing atrocities against civilians in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for five leading members of the LRA, including Kony, in October of 2005 on 33 charges including murder, rape, and the enlistment of child soldiers. Since 1987, the ICC estimates that the LRA has kidnapped more than 30,000 children and forced them into combat.
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In less than 48 hours after the 30-minute documentary was posted to various sites across the web, the "Kony 2012" campaign was trending worldwide on Twitter, covering Facebook newsfeeds and on the front page of Reddit. The campaign, produced by the Invisible Children movement, seeks to make Joseph Kony one of the most infamous people in the world.
“If the world knows who Joseph Kony is, it will unite to stop him. It starts here,” reads the campaigns website.
The documentary aims to pressure both US policymakers and popular cultural icons like Oprah and Lady Gaga to voice their support for the 100-person team of US soldiers currently aiding the Ugandan military in their hunt for Joseph Kony. The soldiers were sent to Uganda in October of 2011 in conjunction with efforts by the Invisible Children movement to stop Kony’s campaign of violence and the recruitment of child soldiers. The joint US and Ugandan effort has yet to yield results and the "Kony 2012" campaign is demanding continued support for the mission.
The documentary calls on the viewer to pressure designated policymakers and celebrities to bring worldwide attention to the campaign through social media as well as traditional means such as handing out flyers and blanketing major cities with posters. The campaign also offers a kit with awareness-raising tools to spread its message against Kony.
Pop singers and reality TV stars have been quick to support the campaign.
“#KONY2012 Spread the word!!!” tweeted pop artist Rihanna, joining Nicole Richie and the Jersey Shore’s Deena in making similar statements on Twitter.
“Well, we’re really making #Kony2012 go viral now! Good work everyone, I should have hissy fits more often. The man must be exposed,” tweeted well-known British journalist Stephen Fry, chiming in for the more traditional side of the media.
The campaign was not launched without some controversy, however. Ugandan journalist Rose Bell brought attention to a blog belonging to Eric Ritskes, a PhD student at the University of Toronto. In the post, Riskes suggests that the campaign pushes a racist attitude toward Africa.
“From the beginning to now, the goal was premised on a White desire to save downtrodden Africa regardless of facts. The movies are premised on the idea that: North American (White) attention will save Africa,” wrote Riskes, who studies sociology and equity studies in education.
As the "Kony 2012" campaign continues to move through social media, mainstream news and even city streets, the world watches. The campaign is set to expire on Dec. 31, 2012. By that time, the campaign’s founders hope Kony will be in custody and brought to trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Can the internet, social media and a viral video create enough political will to stop a war criminal?
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