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Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) movement, has been terrorizing central Africa for decades without much notice from the American public. This week, all of that changed.
On Monday, the non-profit group Invisible Children launched KONY 2012, a 30-minute video described as a film and campaign "that aims to make Joseph Kony famous, not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice." In just four days, the video has garnered 52 million views.
Kony's crimes, which have been well-detailed in a warrant issued by the International Criminal Court, are egregious. Even without widespread public support, the United States has been actively combatting the LRA for many years, both financially and physically. In the last three years, the U.S. sent $33 million to support the Ugandan military. In November, President Barack Obama sent 100 military personnel, primarily Special Operation's Forces, to Uganda in order to “interact with and advise those forces that are actively pursuing the LRA.”
In theory, any campaign against a wanted criminal is a noble endeavor. In the last week, however, Invisible Children has drawn harsh criticism. On Wednesday, Jezebel composed a round-up of these accusations, which include claims of dubious finances, exaggerated claims, support of military intervention, marketing tactics and the conceit of its staff. On Thursday, The Atlantic went further:
"Worst of all, the much-circulated campaign subtly reinforces an idea that has been one of Africa's biggest disasters: that well-meaning Westerners need to come in and fix it."
Whether these criticisms have merit or not, the exercise is a reminder of both the power of social media and the way that content -- good or ill -- can make or break your campaign.