By now you have not only heard about Invisible Children’s “KONY 2012” video-gone-viral, you’re probably one of the more than 100 million people who’ve seen it. You’ve also probably heard the criticisms of the video and the organization that produced it. But whether you support the movement or deride its leaders, you’re likely much more familiar with the Lord’s Resistance Army and Joseph Kony than you were last month before the video was released.
Here is what the world now knows: the LRA and Kony have been violating human rights for the better part of the last 25 years, and not just in Uganda. The crimes against humanity committed by Kony have crossed borders in East and Central Africa. Obviously, this news isn’t new.
Invisible Children, the group deified and persecuted alike over the past few weeks, has, since 2003, been telling anyone who will listen about the atrocities committed in this part of the world. But Invisible Children has not been the only messenger.
Mainstream media has been reporting these crimes for years. The International Criminal Court indicted Kony in 2005. First Kill Your Family, a comprehensive account of Kony, the LRA, and child soldiers in Uganda, was published three years ago. Despite its sensational title, the book credibly details the atrocities Invisible Children has been shouting from cyber-mountaintops.
In April 2007, The New York Times published an article describing how the LRA was filled with “boys who have been brainwashed to burn down huts and pound newborn babies to death in wooden mortars, as if they were grinding grain.” Read that quotation again. Now, ask how anyone could have failed to take notice.
So what is it about the most recent Invisible Children film (there have been over ten since 2003) that thrust it to viral superstardom? Maybe it is the inclusion of Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell and his adorable son. Maybe these guys are better filmmakers now. Or maybe certain, unidentifiable factors propelled the film to its tipping point. Whatever lightning the Invisible Children filmmakers captured last month, it seems to have already escaped the bottle.
What does it suggest that the Tweets and Facebook updates that poured forth only a month ago seem to have dried up?
Is it a commentary on this Internet Generation—young people who have never known a world without the Internet and have, since their teen years, had all that power and information literally at their fingertips? Is it a critique of the fickle nature of the 24-hour news cycle and our society that exhibits symptoms of ADD? Has it already been Fifteen Minutes?
Turn on the news today and the lead story likely details the seemingly senseless killing of Trayvon Martin. In another few weeks, there will be a new issue du jour, but regardless of the next story, the last story seems to be fading away.
You probably haven’t heard about or seen Invisible Children’s “Kony 2012, Part II: Beyond Famous.”
To see how far Invisible Children and its message have wandered from the radar of our consciousness, consider that the organization’s follow-up Kony video—which addresses many of the criticisms of its predecessor—has received only 1.6 million YouTube hits in the week it has been online. That’s about 68 million fewer views than the first film’s opening week.
Invisible Children and its founders have been the subject of intense scrutiny over the past month, and Joseph Kony has rightly been exposed, but there has been a significant loss of interest.
The first KONY 2012 film is a lesson in the power of social media, but perhaps this episode can teach us more about ourselves than those figures that were central in the discussion. If we are to learn from the experience, we must each ask ourselves some potentially difficult questions: Why did I care so much a month ago, but not for years before? And do I still care now, only a month later?
The first answer may provide insight into who we are as a society. The second, insight into ourselves. And if you answer the latter in the affirmative, it should give rise to a more pressing question: What am I going to do about it?
Invisible Children implored its followers to “Stop at Nothing.” If Facebook and Twitter and YouTube—the original measuring sticks of the movement’s significance—are any indication, it seems that many have stopped already.