Ugandans watch the screening of Kony 2012, a 30-minute film by nonprofit campaign group Invisible Children, in Lira, north of Kampala, Uganda.
Kony had garnered 11 mentions in legislation before the video’s release, including a bill that made it U.S. policy to eliminate the threat posed by the LRA and authorized funds for humanitarian relief in the region. Invisible Children, the nonprofit group that created the video, lobbied for that bill and celebrated when Obama signed it into law in May 2010.
A Grain of Salt
Ben Keesey, executive director of Invisible Children, said inspiring legislation was not the motivation when his team was developing the video.
“I don’t think we ever explicitly had a stated goal for a legislative response,” he said. “The beautiful thing was a lot of people took it upon themselves to contact their lawmakers.”
Nonetheless, the popularity of the “Kony 2012” video is not without criticism. Invisible Children has run into trouble for its finances, and several groups blasted the video for oversimplifying the campaign against the LRA.
The problem with videos such as “Kony 2012” is “what the public pays attention to may not be all that real,” Livingston noted.
Micah Sifry, a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government who has written on technology and civic engagement, also was not convinced “Kony 2012” was particularly noteworthy.
“It is dime a dozen in online politics today,” he said. “Everyone is trying to draw attention using online video. The only new wrinkle here is the length.”
Coinciding with Invisible Children’s global day of action, a group of Senators released its own YouTube video earlier this month highlighting what the U.S. government is doing to counteract the LRA and praising “Kony 2012” for bringing the issue to light.
“Because so many Americans first learned about Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army online and because that’s where people are talking to each other about it, we wanted to engage with interested Americans there, too,” said Coons, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs.
Despite the Internet furor surrounding the video, Keesey said Invisible Children tries to stay focused on its work in Africa.
“I hesitate to say we are breaking new ground,” he said. “Congress was working on this before we were here.”