KONY 2012 has good intentions in its focus of building awareness through online participation but this may not be in the best interest for Uganda when it is real-life action that is needed. A participatory culture is a utopian goal and the premise behind this movement is that an individual’s participation can make a difference (Jenkins & Carpentier 2013). The video was very successful online, generating millions of views and raising much-needed awareness (Invisible Children 2014). Though, it must be remembered that no number of likes or shares will capture Joseph Kony.
Support through online participation may be a pre-condition for change but clicking the like button does not create the change itself. The KONY 2012 campaign aims to create a movement by driving people to share and use the hashtag ‘#stopkony’ to build awareness (Invisible Children 2014). The campaign took a cyber-utopian view believing that they could use social networks to start a revolution. This cyber-utopian view is shared by idealists such as Popova (2010) who believes that online communities broaden our scope of empathy and says that to negate the power of social networks for activism “is to deny the evolution of the social planes on which justice and injustice play out”. She provides the example of the disruption of Twitter and Facebook for hundreds of millions of internet users to take down a single blog and silence one voice (Popova 2010). Clay Shirky (2011) takes the softer line stating that “digital tools enhance democracy”. So why is it that media activism has had limited success in the United States (Hackett & Carroll 2006)?
As Morozov (2012) highlights in his work, ‘The Net Delusion’, promoting democracy is not as simple as spreading a message and opening up the means of communication. Invisible Children makes use of what Morozov (2012) has labelled ‘slacktivism’, which involves supporting a cause through minimal actions rather than being truly engaged. Malcolm Gladwell (2010), a social network revolution realist, states that “the kind of activism associated with social media (and) the platforms of social media are built around weak ties”. To some extent the KONY 2012 initiative was successful in generating participation at real-life lobbies and rallies but overall it created weak links of fleeting attention.
Gladwell, M 2010, ‘Small change: why the revolution will not be tweeted’, New Yorker, 4 October, viewed 26 September 2014, <http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/10/04/small-change-3>.
Hackett, R & Carroll, W 2006, Remaking media: the struggle to democratize public communication, Routledge, New York.
Invisible Children 2014, KONY 2012, Invisible Children, viewed 26 August 2014, <http://invisiblechildren.com/kony-2012/>.
Jenkins, H & Carpentier, N 2013, ‘Theorizing participatory intensities: A conversation about participation and politics’. In Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, viewed 18 August 2014, <https://moodle.uowplatform.edu.au/pluginfile.php/266565/mod_resource/content/1/Jenkins%20Carpentier%202013.pdf>.
Morozov, E 2012, The net delusion, Public Affairs, New York.
Popova, M 2010, ‘Malcolm Gladwell is #wrong’, The design observer group, 10 June, viewed 25 September 2014, <http://designobserver.com/feature/malcolm-gladwell-is-wrong/19008>.
Shirky, C 2011, ‘The political power of social media’, Foreign Affairs, 1 February, viewed 26 September 2014, <http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/67038/clay-shirky/the-political-power-of-social-media>.