The makers of Kony 2012, a film drawing attention to atrocities committed by African warlord Joseph Kony, succeeded in topping the news cycle last week and reaching 71 million YouTube views by nailing several ingredients that were factors in other recent Internet phenomena.
Like the Tea Party, the Occupy movement, the Susan G. Komen-Planned Parenthood controversy and the Arab Spring, Invisible Children, the non-profit group that made the film, started out with a simple narrative about an obvious villain, in this case someone who kidnapped children to serve as soldiers and sex slaves. The group enlisted celebrities to spread the message. It relied on the exponential power of social media. And, like the other social media movements, the staying power of Kony 2012 might be fleeting, social media analysts say.
"When you use social media to bring down a dictator, it's simplistic and easy," says Christopher Tunnard, who studies the effect of social media on politics at Tufts University. "When you're trying to build things back up, it's much more complicated. It's very difficult to put together a story about how social media are being used to build up institutions."
The Arab Spring started out with a clear focus on bringing down dictators such as Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, but mobilizing the Egyptian masses to build a democracy has proven beyond the capacity of Egypt's twitterati, Tunnard says.
Filmmaker Jason Russell ends Kony 2012 urging viewers to tell 20 specific celebrities and 12 policymakers to tell the U.S. government, which sent special operations forces to Africa in October to help find Kony, to stick with the mission.
The filmmaker tapped into networks in high schools and colleges and on Capitol Hill and Hollywood, says Jon Tilton of digital marketing company Advocacy Media.
The film was posted March 1 and had 58,000 views by March 5, Tilton says. On March 6, Kim Kardashian sent a tweet with a link to the film to her 13 million Twitter followers, the same day Oprah Winfrey tweeted the link to her 9.7 million followers. That day, Kony 2012 hit 8.2 million views on YouTube, Tilton says. Views continued to grow over the weekend, from 50 million Friday to 71 million by Sunday.
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