The campaign to get Joseph Kony arrested is a case study in how the web has changed political campaigning, says Matt Warman.
From the Countryside Alliance to Big Brother Watch, there have always been single issue campaigns. But thanks to the internet every single housing development seems to attract a Facebook page devoted to opposing it – when the barriers to entry are so low, in terms of both costs and expertise required, the web offers the chance to galvanise a global audience.
Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 campaign, however, has taken that idea to a whole new level: a single, half an hour film has been watched nearly 32 million times, its viral growth driven by Facebook and Twitter.
It’s hard to believe every one of those millions has watched the whole film, but key to the campaign has been a compelling story: Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army has terrorised the people of Uganda, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere. The campaign to see him brought to trial in The Hague has already been supported by US President Barack Obama and countless others – bringing pop stars such as Rihanna on board is not a radical approach.
But what is shocking is the scale and the speed of Kony 2012’s success, and the speed with which it has come under unprecedented criticism. Suddenly campaigners Invisible Children are forced to be more open than previously – and the apparent urgency of capturing Kony has shot up the news agenda.
The film itself is longer than most, but that doesn't immediately make it appealing. If there's a single reason that it has succeeded where others have failed, it's probably simply that it managed to gain momentum, fuelled by its powerful subject matter. Attracting the attention of enough people, in the massive internet, is down as much to good luck as it is to good planning.
And when it comes to planning, the methods behind these apparent successes are, in truth, simple enough: make a great film, in this case with filmmaker Jason Russell, that highlights the 66,000 child soldiers and the 2 million people displaced by the LRA. Thereafter, simply take advantage of an existing base of supporters to push a theme that rightly tugs on the heartstrings. Within hours, millions more people are aware of the horrors perpetrated by the LRA.
At that point, however, two issues arise: with more awareness comes more scrutiny: Invisible Children has been forced to respond to claims that it spends too much money making videos and not enough making strides towards its stated goals. To be fair to the group, they have been keen to respond in detail and in public.
But there’s a second, moral issue to such single issue campaigns: Britain’s anti-foxhunting legislation was important to the Government of the day, for instance, but Tony Blair cited the excessive time it took up in parliament as the single greatest regret of his premiership. And the resulting laws are now widely seen as fundamentally flawed.
Now, too, the #stopkony Twitter hashtag has a global prominence, it seems likely that the issue will indeed get more attention.
But the internet, for all that it contains all the world’s information in one place, has turned complex African and global politics into a single issue. The world wants to #stopkony but the long list of complex issues that need solutions remain as long it ever was. More people may now know about Joseph Kony – but the web has not helped us to work out whether the campaign to capture him really is now more important than it was just a few days ago.