Kony 2012

Kony 2012

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Updated Oct 04, 2013 at 01:36PM EDT by Don.

Added Mar 06, 2012 at 08:16PM EST by Andrew Page.

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Kony 2012 is an online vigilant campaign which aims to arrest the Ugandan guerrilla group leader and head of the Lord’s Resistance Army Joseph Kony before the end of 2012. The operation seeks to create viral media to raise awareness about Kony’s use of children as soldiers and sex slaves in order to urge the American government to assist the Ugandan military in capturing him.


Joseph Kony[1] founded the United Holy Salvation Army after dropping out of high school in 1987, which was later changed to the “Lord’s Resistance Army.”[2] The group was inspired by Alice Auma’s Acholi Holy Spirit Movement, which was a rebel group that claimed to be fighting for the Christian Holy Spirit. Auma distanced herself from Kony as she did not condone the killing of civilians. Following Auma’s military defeats, Kony claimed to be following in Auma’s footsteps in order to recruit former soldiers of the Holy Spirit Movement to the Lord’s Resistance Army.


The Lord’s Resistance Army preaches a hybrid of Christianity and Acholi beliefs and has been known to attack and enslave unarmed Acholis. It has been reported that the group kidnaps young children and forces the females to become sex slaves and the males to become child soldiers.

Invisible Children

In the spring of 2003, three filmmakers Jason Russell, Bobby Bailey and Laren Poole traveled to Africa to document the genocide that was occurring in Darfur, Sudan. During their visit, they learned about the war against the government and the dangers of the rebel group’s control over civilian population. In 2004, they formed the non-profit organization Invisible Children Inc.[5] in an effort to bring more attention to Kony and Lord’s Resistance Army. It also helped with education in Africa and the building of an alert system for counter-resistance groups.

Kony 2012 Video

On February 20th, 2012, Invisible Children uploaded a 30 minute video to Vimeo titled “Kony 2012” which detailed Kony’s history followed by instructions for viewers to support the cause by spreading the video and donating to the organization. The video, directed and narrated by Jason Russell, features clips of his time spent in Africa and footage of Russell’s conversations with his son. The YouTube version was uploaded on March 5th.

In the video, Russel explains his plan to solicit support from 20 notable celebrities, athletes and billionaires actively involved in global humanitarian efforts and 12 political figures to support the legislations against child soldiers. The video also announces the “Cover the Night” event, which would entail spreading Kony 2012-related media in major cities from sundown on April 20th in order to raise awareness.

Notable Developments

Online Reception

The video accumulated nearly 7 million views on Vimeo within 16 days and the YouTube upload received over 43 million views in the span of 72 hours. A /r/KONY2012 subreddit dedicated to the campaign was created on February 26th, 2012. On March 6th, the video was submitted to the /r/atheism[14] subreddit and reached the front page accumulating over 1,000 up votes in less than 24 hours. It subsequently reached the front page of the /r/worldpolitics subreddit several hours later. On March 7th, the hashtags #makekonyfamous [10], #kony2012 [11] and #stopkony [12] became globally trending terms on Twitter, some of which ranked higher than New iPad, according to the Associated Press.[24]

News Media Coverage

Beginning on March 7th, the story was covered by major news outlets including NPR[18], The Huffington Post[19], Washington Post[20] and the Telegraph[21] which remarked how fast the viral video had managed to generate interest in the campaign. At a news conference on March 8th, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the president praised the people who responded to this “unique crisis of conscience” and pledged to continue the disarmament of the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Celebrity Support

Following the massive coverage in the news, numerous celebrities including Justin Beiber, Nicki Minaj and Emma Stone joined the social media bandwagon by retweeting and posting status updates related to the topic of Kony 2012. On March 7th, Diddy tweeted a link to the video with the hashtag #StopKONY, which has been retweeted over 60,000 times.

On March 8th, hip hop artist Soulja Boy released a track to show his support for #KONY2012:

Notable Images


On March 7th, the “Visible Children” Tumblr[15] was launched with a blog post criticizing the Invisible Children organization’s expenditures using charity dollars. The post received over 21,000 notes in less than two hours.

Invisible Children has been condemned time and time again. As a registered not-for-profit, its finances are public. Last year, the organization spent $8,676,614. Only 32% went to direct services (page 6), with much of the rest going to staff salaries, travel and transport, and film production. This is far from ideal, and Charity Navigator rates their accountability 2/4 stars because they haven’t had their finances externally audited. But it goes way deeper than that.

Another controversy arose with a photograph in which the activists can be seen posing with firearms and other soldiers. Some NGOs criticized that Invisible Children neglected the principle of unarmed neutrality while operating in dangerous areas.

For those asking what you can do to help, please link to visiblechildren.tumblr.com wherever you see KONY 2012 posts. And tweet a link to this page to famous people on Twitter who are talking about KONY 2012!

I do not doubt for a second that those involved in KONY 2012 have great intentions, nor do I doubt for a second that Joseph Kony is a very evil man. But despite this, I’m strongly opposed to the KONY 2012 campaign.

KONY 2012 is the product of a group called Invisible Children, a controversial activist group and not-for-profit. They’ve released 11 films, most with an accompanying bracelet colour (KONY 2012 is fittingly red), all of which focus on Joseph Kony. When we buy merch from them, when we link to their video, when we put up posters linking to their website, we support the organization. I don’t think that’s a good thing, and I’m not alone.

Invisible Children has been condemned time and time again. As a registered not-for-profit, its finances are public. Last year, the organization spent $8,676,614. Only 32% went to direct services (page 6), with much of the rest going to staff salaries, travel and transport, and film production. This is far from ideal, and Charity Navigator rates their accountability 2/4 stars because they haven’t had their finances externally audited. But it goes way deeper than that.

The group is in favour of direct military intervention, and their money supports the Ugandan government’s army and various other military forces. Here’s a photo of the founders of Invisible Children posing with weapons and personnel of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Both the Ugandan army and Sudan People’s Liberation Army are riddled with accusations of rape and looting, but Invisible Children defends them, arguing that the Ugandan army is “better equipped than that of any of the other affected countries”, although Kony is no longer active in Uganda and hasn’t been since 2006 by their own admission. These books each refer to the rape and sexual assault that are perennial issues with the UPDF, the military group Invisible Children is defending.

Still, the bulk of Invisible Children’s spending isn’t on supporting African militias, but on awareness and filmmaking. Which can be great, except that Foreign Affairs has claimed that Invisible Children (among others) “manipulates 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.” He’s certainly evil, but exaggeration and manipulation to capture the public eye is unproductive, unprofessional and dishonest.

As Chris Blattman, a political scientist at Yale, writes on the topic of IC’s programming, “There’s also something inherently misleading, naive, maybe even dangerous, about the idea of rescuing children or saving of Africa. […] It hints uncomfortably of the White Man’s Burden. Worse, sometimes it does more than hint. The savior attitude is pervasive in advocacy, and it inevitably shapes programming. Usually misconceived programming.”

Still, Kony’s a bad guy, and he’s been around a while. Which is why the US has been involved in stopping him for years. U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) has sent multiple missions to capture or kill Kony over the years. And they’ve failed time and time again, each provoking a ferocious response and increased retaliative slaughter. The issue with taking out a man who uses a child army is that his bodyguards are children. Any effort to capture or kill him will almost certainly result in many children’s deaths, an impact that needs to be minimized as much as possible. Each attempt brings more retaliation. And yet Invisible Children supports military intervention. Kony has been involved in peace talks in the past, which have fallen through. But Invisible Children is now focusing on military intervention.

Military intervention may or may not be the right idea, but people supporting KONY 2012 probably don’t realize they’re supporting the Ugandan military who are themselves raping and looting away. If people know this and still support Invisible Children because they feel it’s the best solution based on their knowledge and research, I have no issue with that. But I don’t think most people are in that position, and that’s a problem.

Is awareness good? Yes. But these problems are highly complex, not one-dimensional and, frankly, aren’t of the nature that can be solved by postering, film-making and changing your Facebook profile picture, as hard as that is to swallow. Giving your money and public support to Invisible Children so they can spend it on supporting ill-advised violent intervention and movie #12 isn’t helping. Do I have a better answer? No, I don’t, but that doesn’t mean that you should support KONY 2012 just because it’s something. Something isn’t always better than nothing. Sometimes it’s worse.

If you want to write to your Member of Parliament or your Senator or the President or the Prime Minister, by all means, go ahead. If you want to post about Joseph Kony’s crimes on Facebook, go ahead. But let’s keep it about Joseph Kony, not KONY 2012.

~ Grant Oyston, visiblechildren@grantoyston.com

The same day, similar threads questioning the motives of Invisible Children’s campaign surfaced on the frontpage of Reddit, including a /r/DAE post titled “am I the only who who is suspicious about Invisible Children, the organization behind Kony 2012”[13] and a /r/entconomics post titled “The Kony 2012 Campaign is a Fraud”[17], which argued against supporting the corrupt Ugandan Government. The Daily What[22] also published an article calling Invisible Children “an extremely shady nonprofit” and provided links to Charity Navigator[23] profiles for alternative charities to donate to.

On March 8th, Invisible Children posted a response to the criticisms on their official website[30] and justified their expenditures by outlining their three main goals of raising awareness, supporting large-scale advocacy campaigns and operating programs to assist victims on the ground. A screenshot of the organization’s annual financial support was provided in the post:

The post went on to detail many of the programs the group has supported in Uganda including the creation of a radio network, rehabilitation center and scholarship program. In the following week, Invisible Children’s CEO Ben Keesey and the film’s director Jason Russell posted an official response video on YouTube and made several appearances on American news programs like CNN (shown left below).

Carl Weathers Trolling

On March 8th, threads began appearing on the image board 4chan with instructions to post a photo of American actor Carl Weathers from his performance as Major George Dillon in the 1987 science fiction thriller Predator. When posting the photo with a message of praise, the prank is meant to anger people that have confused Weathers with Joseph Kony.

On March 9th, several Facebook screenshots showing examples of the trolling technique were posted to Reddit.[25][26][27][28] The same day, the web culture blog The Daily Dot[29] published an article about the prank’s popularity on the /r/funny subreddit.

Invisible Children Co-Founder Detained

On March 16th, NBC San Diego[31] reported that one of Invisible Children’s co-founders Jason Russell was taken into custody by the San Diego Police Department for being drunk, vandalizing cars and masturbating in public. Police said they received several calls at around 11:30 a.m. about a man behaving strangely in his underwear, running through traffic and screaming. Within hours, an unconfirmed mobile video footage allegedly showing Russell naked in the middle of a street was posted via TMZ:

The story was immediately picked up by numerous blogs like the Huffington Post, Jezebel and TMZ, as well as national news publications. Although it was initially reported that Russell was arrested when taken into custody, San Diego Police Department later confirmed that he was briefly detained and later hospitalized without arrest. For more information on the Internet’s reaction to Russell’s detainment, check out KYMdb – Jason Russell’s Breakdown / #Horny2012.

According to the organization’s profile page, Russell is described as a Christian and father to two children who wants to have nine more children with his wife he calls his “best friend for over 23 years.” Soon after the news reports, Invisible Children’s CEO Ben Keesey released an official statement:

“Jason Russell was unfortunately hospitalized yesterday suffering from exhaustion, dehydration, and malnutrition. He is now receiving medical care and is focused on getting better. The past two weeks have taken a severe emotional toll on all of us, Jason especially, and that toll manifested itself in an unfortunate incident yesterday. Jason’s passion and his work have done so much to help so many, and we are devastated to see him dealing with this personal health issue. We will always love and support Jason, and we ask that you give his entire family privacy during this difficult time.”

In the following hours of news report, people began uploading image macros with commentaries on Russell’s breakdown and hashtag puns like #Horny2012, #Koner2012 and #Faptivism surfaced on Twitter.

Comedian Patton Oswalt commented on the news via Twitter:

April 20th: Cover The Night

[this section is being updated with the latest development]

In the original documentary film, Invisible Children instructed its supporters to take the cause to the streets on April 20th, 2012 by hanging massive banners from bridges and covering public spaces with striking red posters. However, Leading up to the day of action on April 20th, numerous news articles speculated on the viability of the campaign, citing criticisms that the video exaggerated the gravity of Kony and his army’s threat in the region and the public meltdown of film director Jason Russell only a week following the viral success.


In Australia, the turnout was reported by MSN News[32] and The Australian[34] as “fall[ing] flat,” noting that only about 25 demonstrators out of 18,700 Facebook sign-ups attended the event held in Martin Place, a pedestrian mall located in downtown Sydney. In addition, no Kony-related hashtags were reported as trending topics on the Australian Twitter.

North America

In the United States, a number of local events and meet-ups have been scheduled to take place in the evening, though some observers mentioned that not one Kony-related hashtag or keyword was trending on Twitter or Google as of 1:30pm (ET).

In Dallas, Texas, a group of friends bought a billboard space to hang a Kony 2012 poster and support the cause. One of the supporters Matt Hawthorne tweeted an Instagram of the billboard poster:

United Kingdom

Similar outlooks of skepticism seemed to have prevailed in the United Kingdom, where nine regional meet-up events have been scheduled to take place via Facebook pages. There have been conflicting reports regarding the number of signups; The Guardian[35] reported the official event page has almost 3,000 likes and 1,300 people have signed up to attend the event in Reading, while a PR agency for Invisible Children said that 300,000 people have signed up to support the campaign.

October 2012: New Film Released

On October 7th, 2012, Invisible Children uploaded a video titled “Move: Invisible Children’s new film from the creators of KONY 2012,” which included behind-the-scenes footage from the organization and the announcement of a November 17th rally to lobby politicians in Washington, D.C to ramp up efforts to catch Kony in Africa. The video also addressed some of the criticism directed at Invisible Children after the success of the first video and staff member Jason Russel’s mental breakdown (shown below).

On October 8th, the LA Times[36] published a post titled “‘Kony 2012’ makers launch new video aimed at African warlord,” which quoted Jason Russel addressing comparing Joseph Kony to Adolph Hitler:

“If Adolph Hitler was down to 300 Nazis, would anyone say that he doesn’t matter anymore, that the concentration camps are ‘old news? Many children are still living in fear of Kony and the LRA.”


On the same day as the launch of Invisible Children’s new film “Move,” Jason Russell and his wife Danica appeared in a series of interviews to discuss his public breakdown in March, including Oprah’s Next Chapter[38] and NBC Today Show.[37] According to Russell, he has no idea why he was naked in the street, but he felt it was the “intense pressure” from the viral success of the video that led him to break down. He was diagnosed as having a psychotic breakdown that led to temporary insanity.

“My mind couldn’t stop thinking about the future. I literally thought I was responsible for the future of humanity. … It started to go into a point where my mind finally turned against me and there was a moment where, click, I was not in control of my mind or my body.”

As for the accusations of public masturbation, Russell simply denied participating in such lewd act.

“There were rumors of masturbation, but no one who was there ever said that that was happening. …I’m naked so it’s not a far extension of imagination that that would be happening but, no, I don’t remember any of that, and no one we knew there said that I was. I don’t remember anything except like a half-second. I don’t.”

November 17th Rally

On November 17th, 2012, approximately 3,000 youths and college students gathered in front the White House lawn in Washington D.C. for MOVE:DC, a rally event held in conjunction with the Global Summit on Lord’s Resistance Army and organized by Invisible Children. According to the Daily Dot, the rally was largely marked by youthful optimism and celebration of the campaign’s viral success, which have been previous criticized by some as prime examples of online slacktivism. In continuing the campaign’s focus on social media outreach, the rally participants shared images from the scene in real-time via Instagram hashtag #MOVEDC.


On July 24th, 2013, Invisible Children launched the ZeroLRA[40] campaign, which encourages aims to help members of the Lord’s Resistance Army escape and return home (shown below).

<a href =“http://knowyourmeme.com/photos/618889-kony-2012”>

On October 3rd, Time Magazine’s Swampland blog published an interview with Jason Russell about the initiative, which he described as “Netflix meets Peace Corps meets Comic Con.”

Search Interest

Search queries for Joseph Kony peaked earlier in October 2011 when it was reported that 100 U.S. troops were being deployed to central Africa to help battle Lord’s Resistance Army.

External References

[1]Wikipedia – Joseph Kony

[2]Wikipedia – Lord’s Resistance Army

[3]Wikipedia – Acholi People

[4]Wikipedia – Alice Auma

[5]Wikipedia – Holy Spirit Movement

[6]Wikipedia – Invisible Children Inc

[7]Wikipedia – Invisible Children

[8]Reddit – Kony 2012 Poster

[9]Reddit – Kony 2012 Video

[10]Twitter – #makekonyfamous

[11]Twitter – #kony2012

[12]Twitter – #stopkony

[13]Reddit – Am I the only who is suspicious about

[14]Reddit – KONY 2012. Lets mobilize reddit

[15]Tumblr – Visible Children

[16]YouTube – Kony 2012

[17]Reddit – The Kony 2012 Campaign is a Fraud

[18]NPRUgandan Warlord Joseph Kony Under Spotlight Thanks to Viral Video

[19]The Huffington Post – KONY 2012, a Movement to Help the Invisible Children

[20]The Washington Post – Invisible Children Stop Kony Campaign

[21]The Telegraph – online video campaign to bring Uganda war criminal to justice goes viral

[22]The Daily What – On Kony 2012

[23]Charity Navigator – Charity Navigator

[24]Huffington Post – Joseph Kony 2012 Video Goes Viral

[25]Reddit – Trolling the internet human rights activists…

[26]Reddit – It really works

[27]Reddit – I tried it… to no surprise, it worked

[28]Reddit – When all your friends are Redditors

[29]The Daily Dot – Trolling new Kony slacktivists with Carl Weathers

[30]Invisible Children – Critiques

[31]NBC San Diego – Invisible Children Co-Founder Detained

[32]Australia News – KONY 2012’s struggle to remain visible

[33]The Atlantic – Kony 2012’ Night Arrives at Las

[34]The Australian – Kony campaign falls flat in Sydney

[35]Guardian – Kony 2012, What Happens Next?

[36]LA Times – Kony 2012 makes launch new video aimed at African warlord

[37]Oprah’s Next Chapter – First Look: Invisible Children’s Jason Russell on Oprah’s Next Chapter

[38]NBC Today – ‘KONY 2012’ filmmaker: ‘I was not in control of my mind’

[39]Enough Project – Invisible Children Launches ZeroLRA

[40]Invisible Children – ZeroLRA

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