RUNNING HEAD: The Kony 2012 Campaign 1
Case Study: The Kony 2012 campaign and the use of theory and propaganda to sway public opinion Laura Smith COM 564
Case Study: The Kony 2012 Campaign 2 Introduction
“We are going to make Joseph Kony a household name. Not to celebrate him but to bring his crimes to the light.” This quote was from Jason Russell, former director of the non-profit Invisible Children, father of two and the man who almost single-handedly organized one of the largest, but most unsuccessful, non-profit social campaigns of all time. This campaign was Kony 2012, an initiative from Invisible Children with the purpose to raise awareness about Joseph Kony, African cult and military leader, with the eventual goal to have him arrested by the end of 2012.
The campaign was spearheaded by a 30-minute video on YouTube uploaded by Invisible Children on March 5, 2012 (“Kony 2012”, 2012) directed towards Americans (it was later transcribed to other languages for other parts of the world to view). It had more than 43 million views in just two days (Kosner, 2012) and subsequently became the most viral video in history after it reached more than 100 million views in six days (Wasserman, 2012). In the video, Invisible Children recounts the plight of child soldiers and slaves currently under Kony’s rule as part of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda, the Congo and South Sudan. One of the main people shown in the video is Jacob, a Ugandan boy whose brother was killed by the LRA (“Celebs Help “Stop Kony” Trend on Twitter”). While the video reached a huge amount of people around the world, the tactics were not strong enough to support the strategy of raising awareness about Kony and ultimately, the campaign failed.
Case Study: The Kony 2012 Campaign 3
Strategies & Tactics The main strategy of Kony 2012 was to raise awareness about Joseph Kony and the LRA around the world, with the ultimate goal to bring him to justice. This was primarily done through the viral video Invisible Children posted but other tactics were implored as well.
“Cover the Night” In addition to asking viewers to share the video en masse, Invisible Children asked supporters worldwide to “cover the night” on April 20, 2012. The idea was that supporters would cover their hometowns in red posters that night to draw attention to the issue when everyone woke up the next morning (“Kony 2012”, 2012). The “Cover the Night” initiative turned out to be a failure, however, and only several people around the world came out to cover their hometown in posters. More on this later.
“Action Kits” The non-profit also sold $30 action kits to spread more awareness that included posters, bracelets, stickers and campaign buttons (“Kony 2012”, 2012). Users could (and still can) donate to IC’s giving system called TRI. However, the kits cause skepticism in terms of where the money was actually going. A year previously in 2011, Invisible Children took in $13.8 million according to its 2012 financial report (“Charity defends "Kony 2012" video, expenses”, 2012). Total, the organization spent $8.9 million and only $3.3 million went to programs in central Africa. The rest went towards marketing, management & general expenses, media and “awareness products” such as clothing and
Case Study: The Kony 2012 Campaign 4 DVDs (“Charity defends "Kony 2012" video, expenses”, 2012). Skeptics of the campaign were quick to assume the money from the action kits may also be going to expenses other than those for LRA victims.
Dialogue on Social Media Invisible Children knew one video on YouTube wouldn’t be enough to reach as many people as it wanted to. Because of this, IC instructed viewers of the video to send messages to “culturemakers” and “policymakers” with influential Twitter accounts encouraging them to support the effort. These influential policy and culture makers included names such as Mitt Romney, former President George W. Angelina Jolie, George Clooney and Mark Zuckerberg (Tsukayama, 2012). In addition, IC encouraged tweeters to use the hashtags #KONY2012 and #StopKony. Between February 11 and March 11, 2012 #KONY2012 was used 3,290,800 times, with 1,594,812 of those hashtags written on March 7th alone. Even celebrities including Oprah Winfrey, Ryan Seacrest and Justin Bieber tweeted to followers about the video (Goodman, Preston, 2012). In fact, video viewership increased 13,536 percent after Oprah Winfrey tweeted it out (Kanczula, n.d.). Even White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said President Obama extended a congratulations to everyone who came together to promote the viral video via social media (Goodman, Preston, 2012). Of the conversations held on Twitter from March 5-12, 66 percent supported the Kony 2012 campaign (Neidorf, 2012).
While Twitter was the largest sphere where conversations surrounding the Kony 2012 video took place, other social media platforms also aided in spreading the word. Reddit
Case Study: The Kony 2012 Campaign 5 was one of the first advocates of the video, posting the video to its front page just one day after the video premiered on YouTube (“Why Kony 2012 Went Viral”). Invisible Children also created a Facebook group to get people talking. It worked; within three days of the video’s air, the group already had approximately 400,000 likes (“Why Kony 2012 Went Viral”). Why Kony 2012 Succeeded The one way in which Kony 2012 succeeded is apparent: it got people talking. The main strategy was to raise awareness about Joseph Kony. It can’t be argued that this awareness did not take place; it did. Invisible Children reached out to intervening publics (Americans and later other international citizens) in the hopes that viewers of the video would disseminate the message to others. There are several theories that backup the reason about how and why people talked. Theories at Work According to the Two-Step Flow theory, members of society become opinion leaders (intervening publics) on a subject and influence the behaviors of their social networks by taking what they’ve heard from the media. (“Two Step Flow Theory”). In one sense, one could say this is what happened – many people who viewed the video felt as though they became knowledgeable about Joseph Kony and the LRA, shared the video and thus influenced their social networks to also start a discussion about it. However, a 2013 University of Oregon dissertation would argue the opposite. In her case study, Kathleen Spencer found that only a small number of primary influencers from online communities are central to information collection and distribution in online interest-based networks. Basically, she argues that the mass media is not the central source of information, but
Case Study: The Kony 2012 Campaign 6 instead organized publics are (Stansberry, 2012). Through her case study looking at how young adults with cancer communicate online, she found that organized publics consist of networks of individuals within active publics who communicate on a shared interest or concern (in this case it was cancer). They then form active online communities and discuss advocacy among one another. The Kony 2012 campaign was no different. Invisible Children (the organized public) shared the video and mission with their social networks (the active publics) who then communicated the campaign’s message to their social networks. In this sense, there could be some hesitation to believe the Two-Step Flow Theory was 100 percent at work here.
The Framing Theory plays a role in why those who saw the Kony 2012 video discussed it heavily. Framing Theory says that people categorize events to make sense of them; the act makes perceived reality more understandable (“Framing and Framing Theory”). In other words, how an event is framed can affect how people respond and react to it. A study following the 2009 Gaza Conflict showed that human-interest framing had the largest effect emotionally on the subjects (Brantner, Lobinger and Wetzstein, 2011). Two hundred and forty undergraduate students from the University of Vienna were asked to read one of three articles and complete a questionnaire about the article and its journalistic quality. At least one photo accompanied each article (besides the last) ranging from : Tzipi Livni, then foreign minister of Israel, speaking at a press conference, to a wounded Palestinian boy in the hospital with his mother. Results showed that the students who were exposed to the second article with the photos of the wounded boy and others like it made stronger judgments about the article than participants who had the article
Case Study: The Kony 2012 Campaign 7 with no photos or merely political photos. This study showed that when an event is framed with human-interest in mind (a child in pain, mourning citizens etc.), viewers are more likely to give that event higher value. It was the same story with Kony 2012. Viewers of the video saw the pain of Jacob and other children affiliated with the LRA and became so emotionally invested, that they felt as though they had to share. Despite how true or false the facts in the video were, Invisible Children knew they would impact more people by making the video just graphic enough and emotionally provoking. This tactic displays Aristotle’s Pathos mode of persuasion, appealing to viewer’s emotions (Bean and Ramage, 1998).
Forty years ago, one could argue that the Agenda-Setting Theory was also at work with Kony 2012. This theory states that the media tells people what the think about; they set the public agenda (Atkin et al., 2008). In the Kony 2012 case, the media didn’t have time to set the public agenda. Individuals (and in this case, it was those individuals working for Invisible Children) were able to tell publics what to think about (Joseph Kony and the LRA) through YouTube. The mainstream media weren’t involved until the next day, when all they could do was basically recap what the video said, instead of suggesting otherwise. Of course, agenda-setting could be seen several days later when Op/Ed pieces began to surface questioning the validity of the campaign. But the fact that Invisible Children was able to be the first to tell people what to think about gave them power and not the media, making the Agenda-Setting Theory somewhat irrelevant in this case.
Case Study: The Kony 2012 Campaign 8 Why Kony 2012 Failed Slacktivism While Invisible Children’s video did get people sharing and talking about Joseph Kony and the LRA, the campaign did not have the power to take down Kony, as was the primary goal. One would think that with all the social media dialogue, the campaign would have had a huge success in terms of having the world come together to support the cause and get Kony arrested. But what did happen was quite different. For one thing, the “Cover the Night” even proved to be a fail. A gathering in Vancouver only had 17 people come together to put up posters (Hager, 2012) and another in Brisbane, Australia had less than 50 attendees (Paine, 2012). Shanoor Seervai is a writer for the Wall Street Journal who described her experience of ordering a Kony 2012 action kit and being disappointed in the lack of effort of other so-called supporters:
“I was pumped for Cover the Night on April 20, to take the streets with Stop Kony posters and make Kony so famous that the international community would have to catch him…On April 20, I didn’t get an e-mail about the day’s mission. I wanted to wear my tshirt all day, but it was the wrong size and I just wore it to the gym. I wanted to go put my poster up, but I didn't see a single one on the streets. I checked Facebook, which said the campaign was happening “anywhere” and “everywhere,” but where? None of my friends had status updates about Cover the Night, either. So I tweeted #coverthenight @invisible and felt satisfied that I had done my part… Invisible Children assumed that the campaign’s online success would be enough to motivate their supporters to get off Facebook and take to the streets. It failed to recognize with no offline direction other than
Case Study: The Kony 2012 Campaign 9 a vague call to community service was unlikely to inspire the slacktivists the campaign had attracted in the first place” (Seervia, 2012).
This idea of slacktivism was one of the main reasons Kony 2012 could not pull people together to expose Kony. Slacktivism is when an advocacy group relies on social media as a means of building support for their cause or causes. Followers are encouraged to like posts and pages on Facebook and share on Twitter, or even order and wear a shirt or bracelet to publicly display their support. Slacktivism can even include changing one’s profile picture on Facebook to the cause’s logo or symbol on a certain day (Seay, 2012). These forms of advocacy, however, don’t require the supporter to go too out of their way to support a cause. They don’t have to spend a whole day doing hard labor or even spend a penny if they don’t want to. This is what happened with Kony 2012. The people who felt so strongly about sharing the video didn’t feel as strongly about staying out all night covering their hometowns in red posters. They were motivated to talk about the issue, but not motivated enough to physically go out and do something about it.
Inaccurate information One of the biggest criticisms about the Kony 2012 campaign was the inaccuracy of the facts and statistics described in the video. The major argument from many media outlets, skeptics and those associated with the violence in central Africa was that the danger of the LRA and its exploitation of children was exaggerated to make it sound worse than it actually was. An article by Foreign Affairs described it as such:
Case Study: The Kony 2012 Campaign 10 “In their campaigns, such organizations have manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA's use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony -- a brutal man, to be sure -- as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil. They rarely refer to the Ugandan government atrocities or those of Sudan's People's Liberation Army, such as attacks against civilians or looting of civilian homes and businesses, or the complicated regional politics fueling the conflict.” (Allen et al., 2011).
A Foreign Policy blog post written by journalist Michael Wilkerson also spoke of misinformation from the campaign:
Let's get two things straight: 1) Joseph Kony is not in Uganda and hasn't been for 6 years; 2) the LRA now numbers at most in the hundreds." (Thompson, 2012)
Adam Branch, Senior Research Fellow with the Makerere Institute of Social Research in Uganda, wrote on the CIHA (Critical Investigations into Humanitarianism in Africa) Blog just six days after the Kony 2012 video was released with his reaction to the campaign and subsequent dialogue. He wrote:
“In northern Uganda, people’s lives will be left untouched by this campaign, even if it were to achieve its stated objectives. This is not because all the problems have been resolved in the years since open
Case Study: The Kony 2012 Campaign 11 fighting ended, but because the most serious problems people face today have little to do with Kony.”
In addition to the firsthand experience in the area Russell and his Invisible Children team discuss, Branch also had reason to believe the campaign was politically motivated in an attempt to increase military presence in central Africa. He said:
“It is an excuse that the U.S. government has gladly adopted in order to help justify the expansion of their military presence in central Africa…. The hunt for Joseph Kony is the perfect excuse for this strategy—how often does the US government find millions of young Americans pleading that they intervene militarily in a place rich in oil and other resources? The US government would be pursuing this militarization with or without Invisible Children—Kony 2012 just makes it a little easier. Therefore, it is the militarization we need to worry about, not Invisible Children.” (Branch, 2012).
It is also important to note that in the video, Russell himself mentions that Kony had to be stopped even though “Uganda was relatively safe” (YouTube).
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Kony 2012 posters were seen scattered throughout the Internet, telling people to be skeptical. (Source: imgfave.com)
Propaganda Card-Stacking Another reason Kony 2012 was criticized for being a failure was due to the mass belief that the campaign was simply pure propaganda. In an interview with NPR, Michael Wilkerson confirmed the card-stacking (false) allegations Invisible Children made:
“Only 15 minutes into this 30-minute film is it mentioned that the LRA left northern Uganda, and they don't mention the year, and it's only a few second in the 30-minute video. So it's easy to understand why people who are directed by celebrities or whatever might misunderstand this.” (Wilkerson, 2012).
Even though people didn’t know the actual situation going on in Africa, they immediately believed what the video was telling them, regardless of any inaccuracies.
Case Study: The Kony 2012 Campaign 13 Name Calling Name calling propaganda entails the use of negative words or labels to create prejudice against a person (The Institute for Propaganda Analysis). While there’s no doubt Joseph Kony is not a good person, Invisible Children specifically called him things such as “a bad guy” and explains how he turns “the girls into sex slaves and the boys into child soldiers. He makes them mutilate people’s faces and he forces them to kill their own parents.” Russell says this to make his point that Kony must be brought to justice.
Testimonial In this case, a testimonial consisted of a respected person saying that the Kony 2012 campaign was a good idea and Joseph Kony was bad (The Institute for Propaganda Analysis). Celebrities by the hundreds had something to say about the Kony video. When ordinary people heard these famous influencers discuss it, they too wanted to spread the word (especially after Oprah tweeted about it).
Bandwagon Bandwagon propaganda refers to how people tell others to do something so not to feel left out (The Institute for Propaganda Analysis). Viewers of the video felt as though they had to tell their social networks about the video because everyone else was sharing it.
False Dichotomy This propaganda device essentially says “you’re either with us or against us.” There is an argument that presents two options and ignores other alternatives (philosophy-
Case Study: The Kony 2012 Campaign 14 index.com). This can be seen a bit in the video when Russell stresses that viewers have to take action. He says, “He (Kony) is going to be growing his numbers. People forget and you’ve got to remind them and it takes numbers to remind them and if interest wanes, then it’ll just go away and I’d end up standing out there alone trying to do something to support completing the mission. It’s got to be 2012. It’s not bad for the youth, it’s bad for the world if we fail” (YouTube). He also says “We have reached a crucial time in history, where what we do or don’t do right now will affect every generation to come” (YouTube).
While Invisible Children succeeded in its initial strategy of getting word out (and spread) about Joseph Kony and the LRA, the overarching goal of putting him in prison was not successful. Many intervening publics were aggressive about discussing the campaign on social media and sharing the video, but they were not aggressive enough to go out and do anything about the cause. Inaccurate information from Invisible Children also caused people to become skeptical about the cause, and the propaganda-like tactics did not help. Kony 2012 showed to people around the world that the way coverage is framed can affect how viewers react to it and that the communicability of social media is widespread. But ultimately, slacktivism and inaccurate facts can often have a greater power of leading people to become dormant and inactive, rather than make a difference for a cause.
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