Invisible Children: from viral to flop

Invisible Children: from viral to flop

Invisible Children: from viral to flop 2

Fundraising | Kirsty Weakley | 24 Apr 2012

Invisible Children failed to turn its remarkable viral campaign into anything solid on the ground. Kirsty Weakley revisits the issue that few others have.

Friday night was the worldwide date set by Invisible Children, the charity behind the Kony 2012 video that went viral last month, to 'Cover the Night'.

The American charity had asked its supporters to cover cities around the world with posters, stickers and murals to put pressure on governments to step up their efforts to capture the now infamous Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony.

Judging by the viral success of the campaign video I would have expected my head to be spinning with the sight of Kony heads on my way into work in London this morning, but alas, it was not the case. Quite the opposite, in fact - I saw none. Going by tweets and news stories from around the world, it would appear the same apathic response to the call for action was replicated elsewhere.

Even Invisible Children’s own Tumblr blog is remarkably sparse, with the post of the charity’s action at its own headquarters only being re-blogged or liked twice. There are no posts from anywhere in the UK.

The original Kony 2012 film, which announced Friday 20 April as a day for action, has now amassed more than 88 million views, but it has been dogged by criticism (from myself included) about its message and methods. The follow-up video, Kony 2012 Part II, which aimed to address the concerns raised by critics of the first video, has had just under 2 million views. The viewing figures for the Cover the Night promotional videos on the charity’s YouTube page range between 20,000 and 200,000 indicating that interest in the campaign has diminished somewhat.

So did those young people who were avidly watching, retweeting and generally driving the viral campaign last month change their minds about the campaign as a result of the bad press or are they all too busy revising as we head into exam season? Whatever the reason, this sends an important message to charities about keeping up momentum and not being too ambitious.

Gergo Danka
25 Apr 2012

Dear Kirsty,

I would argue vehemently with your evaluation of this scenario when you conclude that 'this sends an important message to charities about... not being too ambitious'. I believe that it was us - myself shamefully included -, the people who were indeed not ambitious enough to actually do something about this campaign, apart from comfortably watching a short film online from our cosy sofas, thus turning it into a viral. But when actual physical action and active involvement was required, the overwhelming majority of us failed to act upon our word of support, if you like.

If I may also add that - whilst not yet read upon it enough - I have so far not seen or heard a criticism against KONY 2012 that stood its ground in my view.

The 'too little too late' is simply such a weak argument in this case that I doubt I need to elaborate here why that does not stand or convince.

To quote you once more: it is indeed our 'apathy' that failed KONY's past, present and future victims this time, as opposed to Invisible Children's 'too great ambitions'.

Bruce Wilson
24 Apr 2012

Some Ugandans seem less than impressed by Invisible Children's efforts.

Last Friday the 13th, April 2012, during an official Invisible Children-organized screening of KONY 2012 part 2 in the Northern Ugandan city of Gulu, the audience became so enraged by the video that they started to pelt the screen, and IC organizers, with rocks.

Ugandan police, in turn shot tear gas at the crowd and fired their rifles into the air, causing panic. One death and several injuries were reported.

It was the second riot, or near-riot, that Invisible Children's videos have provoked in Uganda.

From the linked Uganda Monitor story:

"Ms Margaret Aciro, whose picture appears in the Kony 2012 video showing her lips, nose and ears mutilated, has criticised the documentary, saying it is aimed at making money using victims of the northern insurgency.

Ms Aciro, 35, abducted by rebels of the LRA in 2003 from Paicho Sub-county in Gulu Municipality, was among thousands of people who flocked Pece War Memorial Stadium on Friday to watch the filming of Kony 2012 by Invisible Children.

“I watched the Kony 2012 video but I decided to return home before the second one (Kony 2012 Par II) because I was dissatisfied with its content. I became sad when I saw my photo in the video. I knew they were using it to profit.”

The Catholic Archbishop of Gulu and member of the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative, Rt. Rev John Baptist Odama, whose daughter committed suicide as a result of her treatment while kidnapped by Kony's LRA, also had harsh words for the Invisible Children video screening:

"This is catastrophic, it's causing chaos. It is igniting more, actually, a situation of starting afresh the war. But now it is against the population. This film could have been prepared with a consultation. For example, the stakeholders could be consulted - "We would like to project a film like this, what do you think?" People should have been asked before, instead of having the film shown now."

In addition, Invisible Children denies being an evangelical organization, or having official ties to any evangelical organizations, but it is listed as an official dues-paying evangelical Christian ministry in the Barnabas Group.

The IC nonprofit has extensive, demonstrated ties to the politicized, evangelical right:


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Kirsty Weakley is a reporter at Civil Society Media.

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