The most viral video of all time called for millions to canvas the streets and “stop at nothing” to make Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony famous. Instead of the highly anticipated mass display of public, tangible advocacy, Bostonians awoke Saturday morning to a weak translation from online to physical campaigning riddled with litter and defacement of public monuments.
Faltering to propagate the mass movement, Invisible Children’s call to “stop at nothing” turned to vandalism in the Boston Common. BPD was called to investigate a series of complaints regarding defacement of public property—including “KONY 2012” spray painted on the Boston Massacre Memorial. After the night of the canvassing, empty beer bottles surrounded the monument.
For what was meant to be the campaign’s big moment—a world changing display of advocacy last Friday, April 20—reports abound of the social media momentum’s failure to translate to large-scale, on-the-ground action.
A quick scan of the world’s largest media outlets and trending topics reveals a failure to regain its traction following its initial surge of publicity.
Google Trends reveals the search volume index for “KONY” spiked to its highest point on March 7—just two days following its release—yet plummeted back to a level of near anonymity one week later. On the day following Cover the Night, Google Trends shows its search levels at 1/20 of its initial spike. It was the world’s most viral campaign in history, and
Invisible Children’s zealous promotion of the night has been followed up with close to nothing.
“It received so much attention right away that it reached its breaking point,” says Harvard University student Cathy Sirois. “Invisible Children was delegitimized in a way.”
Its perceived downfall stemmed from attacks on the original video, including embellishment of the issue, weakness in addressing key facts, and criticisms of its approach to tackling the problems in East Africa.
Invisible Children promptly responded to the campaign’s pushback by releasing a 20-minute follow-up documentary, KONY 2012: Part 2—Beyond Famous. Critics begged for more information, and the new documentary responded with detailed facts, personal on-the-ground accounts, and organizational transparency. Despite efforts toward a more nuanced approach, the film reached less than 2 percent of the views of the original.
Sirois guesses the prevalence of Boston’s elite colleges and critical students stunted the campaign from gaining much weight.
Despite its loss in momentum, Boston students agree it has been insightful in indicating the power of social media to institute reform.
“This movement shows us how massive and crazy social media can be,” says Boston University freshman Charlotte Condy. Condy was one of several dozen who met in the Boston Common Friday night to “Cover the Night.” “All of us are doing the same thing for the same cause, and it really shows how much people care and how much we are all connected.”
“I think at this point it’s really in the hands of the individual,” Boston University Invisible Children representative Amanda Crawford-Staub says. “You may no longer see a status about what you can do to bring peace to Central Africa and support Invisible Children, but if you do a little of your own research, the tools are definitely there.”
“Of course there’s going to be criticism,” MassArt junior Nicole Jimenez says.
If not for criticism, increased awareness, organizational transparency and visionary advancement might not exist.
“Maybe a nationwide campaign is not the best way to implement change,” Sirois says. “but it’s a form of action in which young people can engage.”
In spite of search analytics casting a gloomy review on the campaign’s efforts, Invisible Children representatives brand the event as a grand success. Twitter users and major media headlines hail the event as an “epic fail,” and “flop” in translating to offline mobilization, but IC’s website continues to update its live feed with signs of international advocacy. In its latest video, the organization calls for advocates to meet at the United Nations in June, and says that in November, the movement will “unite like never before.”
There is no further word from Invisible Children.