After toppling governments in the Middle East, can social media stop a killer?
With “Kony 2012,” social media has taken on its next mission impossible: stopping an international child-killer.
To which we can only say: Why not?
After fomenting revolution in Iran (a green one), toppling a government in Egypt, awakening a generation to elect an African-American president, stopping piracy legislation its tracks – to name just a few accomplishments – YouTube, Twitter and Facebook can hardly be dismissed as a means to stop an obscure Ugandan crazyman with a penchant for murdering children.
Seriously. We no longer live in a world where such a thing is the stuff of fantasy.
The viral, 30-minute video that has spent a few days on YouTube now has nearly 30 million views and has lit a brush fire across the landscape of the media and political establishment.
By Thursday, the video had grabbed the news agenda previously owned by such over-hyped rituals as the Super Tuesday primaries, taking center stage on the New York Times home page and prompting President Obama to make a public comment.
At this writing, the website related to the video had 2.4 million Facebook "likes." At this hour, "Uganda" was still trending on Twitter, three days in. The YouTube video had 400,000 comments on it.
It’s not exactly a coincidence, but it’s not all calculation either. It’s the power of social media, and once again we are learning how the power of these technology-era tools can be world-changing in their speed and reach.
The group behind the video, Invisible Children, has been extremely savvy and organized in its use of social media, grabbing the power of the Internet by the tail to force its agenda onto the public stage.
The group carefully planned the launch of the video, targeted high-profile, highly social-networked celebrities to spread the word, and had a website that didn’t crash when their strategy worked.
The 30-minute video is entertaining, adorable in its use of movement founder Jason Russell’s own baby at the start of the story and dramatic in its turn toward the tragic plight of Ugandan children like Russell’s now-grown friend Jacob.
It’s about kids, and the appeal is to them. I cannot tell you exactly why every teenager I know of (I have two of my own, and know a whole bunch more) had heard of “Kony 2012” at least 24 hours before I had. But they did.
Kony is now literally a household name. I asked my older teenager about it on Wednesday. “I saw it last night,” he told me, as if it was last year’s news.
A friend of my 14-year-old son walked through the kitchen a few moments ago. What do you think of Kony? I asked.
“He’s terrible,” said Brian. “I got like 10 invitations on Facebook to events about him.”
He meant 10 invitations to go out and post anti-Kony posters on April 20, the day Invisible Children has chosen for all-out social action.
The State Department was told about it by their kids. “Mark had it brought to his attention by his 13-year-old, I think, earlier this morning,” Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman, said at a news briefing on Thursday, referring to her colleague, Mark Toner.
One question I wonder about is whether the issue will suffer from the short attention span of social media – and the kids who use them.
That remain to be seen. In the meantime, the group has also been savvy in its lightning-fast response to criticism, which cropped up immediately. It posted a lengthy set of responses on its website that addressed a wave of observations that the group was naïve or exaggerating the issue.
Without a doubt, Joseph Kony is a very bad guy. The International Criminal Court hasn’t gotten him. The Ugandan army hasn’t gotten him.
But my bet is in the age of social media, he doesn’t stand a chance.