The flameout of Kony 2012

When the Kony 2012 video went viral and caught the attention of millions of viewers within only a few days in early March, it seemed as if the nonprofit Invisible Children had done everything right. But only six weeks later, the campaign to capture the Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony for his war crimes in the region has flamed out. The maker of the video has had a public breakdown and the outrage on Facebook has faded. NPR’s Alan Greenblatt interviewed me last week on the mistakes Invisible Children made and why topics rise and fade so quickly in social media.

The following are excerpts from the article “The Social Media Shuffle: From Kony To Spooning” on the NPR website:

Part of the power of “Kony 2012” was the way Russell was able to personalize the cause, showing how he and his young son had come to understand the menace and impact of Kony and his group, the Lord’s Resistance Army.

But having made himself central to the film’s message created a public relations crisis when Russell was caught acting out on tape, says Marcus Messner, a communications professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“What was really a turnoff, particularly for young people, was the amateur video showing the [Invisible Children] organizer dancing naked on a street corner,” Messner says. “While most people did not personally hear the criticism of the [“Kony 2012″] video, they did see the video of the breakdown.”

But Messner, the VCU professor, suggests that Invisible Children may have been, to some extent, undermined by its own success. Because the video succeeded beyond the group’s own expectations, it was not equipped to cope with the onslaught of questions and skepticism it provoked.

“The lesson for other organizations is that if you do it in the right way, you can have a tremendous public reaction to a viral campaign,” Messner says. “But you have to make sure that all your facts hold up, because journalists are going to go after you if you get this widespread attention.”

Please also read Greenblatt’s entire article on the NPR website.


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