KONY 2012: Social Media, Idealism, Realism

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&gt;.

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>.


9 thoughts on “KONY 2012: Social Media, Idealism, Realism

  1. KONY2012 was a huge Internet sensation is raising awareness, which quickly shot through the roof within the first week of its online presence from the YouTube short film. Yes, it was highly effective in raising awareness universally, and pushed it to selling merchandise packs and getting supporters to buy posters and on a particular day, put them up everywhere in your city till it’s absolutely covered. Yep, so they got the raising awareness part down pat, but don’t over do it. There is a point and should be the priority right from the start, to actually go and rescue the children from KONY and the child army. Did this happen, how many of the slacktivists took physical action. The sad thing is, these are just online trends and become a fad to be quickly soon forgotten.

  2. KONY 2012 is a great example of social media influencing, organizing and raising awareness for a cause. However, the rate at which social media evolves many causes like KONY 2012 struggle to stay relevant. I find myself agreeing with your quote from Gladwell, about the “weak ties” of social media activism, you see it everyday on Facebook, another ‘share this picture’ or ‘copy and paste this’. Whilst these types of campaigns may raise awareness for causes not many of the “slacktivists’ who share them will do anything more physical then push the ‘like’ button.

  3. Great example of how this viral video has been the subject of massive criticism in terms of passive activism. Many people have have questioned the transparency of the Invisible children as a activist organisation. Realistically the bloggers and tweeters appear as clicktivists. Although they have expressed there support for the cause their actions have in now way directly impacted on the kony cause. However if we draw from the examples in this weeks readings it becomes apparent that there is power in numbers particularly those shared. The concept of spreading the story, has made Kony famous worldwide, its value lies in that people become informed about these human rights abuses. That being said watching a 30 minute video does not make anyone an expert on civil rights abuses in Uganda. Slacktivism I believe provides a safer, more objective, more financially feasible way for people to congregate and discuss human rights abuses. The power of visual stimulus which I discussed in my seminar is profound, a 30 minute YouTube video such as Kony can have a massive impact on an individuals opinions, mindset and ideology. A slacktivist does not necessarily mean a more lazy individual. Importantly it is a person’s choice to become involved in causes which they find compelling. Being more active in promoting on Facebook, tweeting and re-tweet important information on Twitter, and connecting other like mined people to the cause. The power of spreading the word can not be belittled or looked at with condescension it is connected to the pebble idea discussed in relation to twitter in previous weeks, its is these pebbles combined that can together create desired change.

  4. I like your post because I remember the Kony 2012 video so well. It definitely supports the negative view of ‘slacktivism’ and just getting involved by a single click. But I feel it wasn’t shown specifically for the capture of Joseph Kony. I feel like it was to raise awareness and let people know what is happening.The way I see it is that social media is shifting the way we communicate and reach important information. ‘Slacktivism’ is always going to be strong these days but it will create awareness that wasn’t previously able to be reached. Great examples though which supports the negative influences of ‘slacktivism’.

  5. KONY2012 is a great example of the ups and downs of social media. There is no denying the fact that the video brought this issue to the attention of the world. I for one would not have known about KONY without it. But the problem with everyone being involved in something like this is how quickly it can fall apart. When the filmmaker of the video had his meltdown, the whole world saw and the entire thing became a humourless joke. The range of sources your included really highlight this issue well, great job.

  6. This is such a relative post because that video is (I think) instilled in everyone’s mind who has ever watched it through to the end. Your mention of slacktivism resonated with everyone because we’ve all been there where we’ve clicked like or share to create awareness and never really done anything about it since. (Speaking for myself, I am 100% guilty of this). You’ve done a great job in relating this back to the weekly topics in a short, concise and easy to read structure. Some images or vid may help make your page a little more inviting/engaging but your content makes up for that. Great work!

  7. Your example of KONY 2012 is a good example of how social media has the potential to influence people and raise awareness for a cause, but I agree with you, no number of likes or shares will capture Joseph Kony. However as some of the other comments have mentioned I believe that the video was not solely about capturing Joseph Kony, it was also about raising awareness and letting people know about the abuses agains humans beings. Although watching a 30 minute video doesn’t make someone an expert on the matter, it does help to generate discussion and have an impact on certain peoples opinions and ideologies. If individuals are going to share issues over Facebook and other social media websites then they are still helping to spread the world and shouldn’t be frowned upon. I really enjoyed your blog and you did well to relate the issue to this weeks topic!

  8. Yes! Someone who identifies that social media is the tool for change and not the vehicle. While it is unquestionable that the power these networks having in communicating a message, or uniting a group of people, the people themselves are still the driving force. Kony was such a perfect example because it was one of the first big examples of social media’s power in this field, however, people were so consumed by their digital support of the movement that the physical impact was almost non-existent. Well written, and very well supported, great job.

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