It’s been over a year since the release of Kony 2012 caused Facebook users around the world to take a step back from food pictures and selfies and to become social activists. The video garnered hundreds of millions of views and has been hailed as one of the most successful viral videos of all time (though PSY and Macklemore had yet to break out). A year later, Kony remains elusive despite his newfound fame from the video.
The question then becomes, how successful was Kony 2012?
It’s hard to find a fair assessment of the video’s success due to the controversy involving director Jason Russell, who was detained by the San Diego police for public indecency. It was hard to take Russell seriously after he perused the streets of San Diego nude and the massive congressional and social support never seemed to materialize. Russell’s interview with Oprah in October did little to revitalize interest in the movement.
Much of the criticism of Kony 2012 prior to the arrest of Russell was directed at the short-term involvement of the majority of the viewers of the video. Meme’s mocking the movement by saying “watches 30 minute video, becomes social activist,” are not necessarily inaccurate. More people know who Joseph Kony is, but how many of those people who shared the video on Facebook took steps to further involve themselves in the movement?
Some of that is to be expected when the core focus of the movement was to make Kony “famous. There’s no denying that more people know who Kony is in 2013 than in 2011. But where does that get us?
Kony is not caught and politicians did not really advocate for either the deployment of troops to Africa or efforts to train Africans to find him. This can be considered surprising depending on how you want to look at the situation. At one end, it’s not a big shocker that the politicians who “expressed support” for the video did not follow through. This would hardly be the first time someone in the government made an empty promise and any motions to deploy troops could easily be interpreted at pro war.
There is however the other end of the spectrum. This video is one of the most viral videos of all time. With support and Facebook likes in the millions, why did nothing big come of it?
Kony 2012 cannot be considered a big success on any front. It was a powerful display of social media’s ability to rapidly get behind a cause. It was not an impressive showing of social media’s staying power.
We’ve seen the positive elements of social media. These past few days in Boston have been the epitome of human kindness and compassion. Facebook and Twitter were used to relay information regarding the safety of the runners to the masses in ways that cell phones and e-mail could not.
With regards to the legacy of Kony 2012, the movement reflects the potential of the full power of social media rather than any proven end result. The jury is still out on whether or not social media can change the world. While Kony 2012 and Invisible Children may have been a bit too ambitious, the circumstances surrounding the movement make it a poor example to set a precedent for the full staying power of social media.