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Five reasons why Kony campaign’s street action mostly flopped

Given the fast-paced nature of news combined with our peculiarly American brand of cultural ADHD (attention-deficit-hyperisolationist-disorder), perhaps nobody should be too surprised that the call for actual action by the Kony 2012 campaign largely flopped.

That doesn’t mean the actual hunt in east-central Africa for the now world-infamous African warlord Joseph Kony isn’t on. Oh, it’s on.

But Friday was supposed to be a day of global call to action — in which the anti-Kony organization Invisible Children had called for people worldwide to put up posters and graffiti calling for the end to Kony’s reign of terror.

Didn’t really catch fire this time. Here are five possible explanations floating out there:

  1. Slacktivism or Clicktivism — the modern tendency for people to “engage” in a social action that involves clicking on a web page but then doing nothing more.
  2.  Collapse of the heroic narrative. One thing the Kony 2012 bunch did amazingly well is create a ‘heroic narrative’ in which a bad guy is targeted by a good guy. But then the good guy, Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell, confused people with weird behavior.
  3. Apathy.
  4. The counterpoint prevails. The Kony 2012 video exploded in popularity and just as quickly was attacked by many aid and development experts as a dangerous Hollywood-ization of a complex problem.
  5. We cared then, but this is now. We’ve all just moved on to other things.

Here are some stories that examine the reported failure of the Cover the Night campaign, variously suggesting any or all of these reasons.

As The Guardian noted Kony 2012 fails to move from the internet to the streets:

The Kony 2012 Cover the Night campaign woke up to awkward questions on Saturday after activists failed to blanket cities with posters of the wanted Ugandan warlord, Joseph Kony. The movement’s phenomenal success in mobilising young people online, following last month’s launch of a 29-minute documentary which went viral, flopped in trying to turn that into real world actions.

Locally, Seattle Globalist reported on the diehard supporters:

After a record breaking viral video and over 1400 likes on the local Facebook event page, the youth mobilized by the Kony 2012 campaign were supposed to come out in force to “Cover the Night”. They were to blanket Seattle, and the rest of the country, “demanding justice on every street corner” as the viral call-to-arms video proposed.

So did they? At least here in Seattle, the answer seems to be a resounding “kinda”….

Devin Erickson, a 20 year-old University of Washington (UW) sociology student and leader of the college’s KONY 2012 club, met with fellow club members Amethyst Williams, 18, and Alison Guajardo, 20, at UW’s Red Square before heading downtown to put up posters.

“[After the video went viral] we had 100 new members for our chapter but we have not seen any of them at the meetings,” Erickson said, referring to the difficulty of taking an online campaign offline.

Invisible Children claims otherwise, that thousands of photos they received indicate that their “Cover the Night” event was such a rousing success it “blew our minds.”  Hmmm, not sure that’s the best phrase to use given co-founder Jason Russell’s bizarre reaction to their initial success with the video.

Here’s what they have planned next:


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.