Wednesday, 7 March 2012

'KONY 2012,' a Viral Internet Campaign

Admittedly, I am no politics buff, especially on issues outside of our government. So from a neutral standpoint, I recently came across a viral short film. The film, titled 'KONY 2012'  focused on a rebel movement in Uganda headed by a man named Joseph Kony. This rebel leader is known for kidnapping children, turning the boys into gun wielding soldiers and exploiting the girls as sex slaves. The internet campaign has been created by an organisation named 'Invisible Children.' The goal is to raise this dictator to a celebrity status by getting 'culturemakers' (actors, television personalities, athletes) and politicians to 'tweet' about Kony and raise awareness. This is where I believe the subject can really be contextualized in relation to our course. The 'Kony 2012' campaign runs on the basis that the average person can make a difference through online networking. As our course is concerned with digital media, it is important that we are aware of this online 'Facebook' and 'Twitter' culture when considering new marketing techniques.

First of all, we have the video:

Generally, the video focuses on the efforts of the 'Invisible Children' organisation, and also how we can help. By quoting popular sights such as 'Facebook' 'Twitter' and 'YouTube,' this theme of the online network is quickly established. The video also seems to use lots of emotive techniques, perhaps the most potent being the focus on the director's son. The inclusion of a child symbolises innocence and blissful unawareness. We can see this clearly when the director explains who Koney is to his son for the first time. When shown a picture of Jacob (a Ugandan boy who the director developed a friendship with after pledging to avenge his brother's execution), the child recognizes him instantly as you would a family member. To me, this clip is included as it created this idea of a shared bond across international barriers. It creates a sense of family outside of our blood relatives, to other humans around us. The child does not recognize Koney, so the director explains that he is the bad guy. Extending on the notion of innocence and naivety, the boy explains that real life villains are like the villains from 'Star Wars.' I do not speak opposingly when I say this small boy is used almost as an emotive ploy. He is included as a tool, so that the director can explain to the audience exactly who Koney is, without addressing us in a direct patronising manner. At the same time, we can relate this innocent child to the children who's lives have been shattered by the Ugandan rebel leader.

We see a further use of rhetoric techniques with the way that the video depicts Kony as a truly evil man. At one significant point in the short film, we are shown clips from man's dark history. We see the infamous dictator Adolf Hitler and a pile of dead bodies in one of the World War II concentration camps. This suggests that the evil doings of Kony are of a similar calibre, and perhaps on an even deeper level, that his power and influence could eventually threaten our wellbeing.

What really sells the video as a viral internet campaign, is the use of the semantic first person. 'You' can help. What steps 'you' can take. This generates strongly the idea that we are a large global community connected through the internet. It reflects this new attitude that what we broadcast is presented to a huge worldwide audience, meaning that essential by sharing the link to the video, we are making a significant change. Again, this emotive style means it is hard not to simply click the share button to show support. Building even more on this idea of networking, supporters are influenced to contact the culture making celebrities on twitter, urging them to talk about the Kony situation. These big celebrity personalities are seen as influential figures as they boast huge amounts of followers on their Twitter accounts. It is interesting to note how this sense of popularity translates across to an online platform. It means that celebrities are able to instantly broadcast their thoughts or current activities to their many fans. You could say it has massively changed how we receive information. Perhaps we do not rely as heavily on television broadcast news, which is likely why the 'Kony 2012' has targeted this internet mass culture.

Perhaps naively, I shared the video instantly and headed over to the website to sign an online pledge. It was later on the same evening that I found this:

This 'Tumblr' post poses a counter argument against the 'Kony 2012' campaign, implying that the Ugandan army which it funds is known for rape and looting. The post agrees that Kony is an evil man who deserves to be brought to justice, but aims to look at the issue as a whole, announcing:

'Is awareness good? Yes. But these problems are highly complex, not one-dimensional and, frankly, aren’t of the nature that can be solved by postering, film-making and changing your Facebook profile picture, as hard as that is to swallow.'

It seems that the blog has taken a step back and looked at the Ugandan situation from all angles. It is suggested that a link to the 'Visible Children' Tumblr post should be shared on any 'Kony 2012' link to counteract the movement.

It is interesting to see this viral approach to a political campaign. This idea that we are all connected echoes strongly throughout the online video. The campaign embodies many key elements in how culture is changing as a result of the internet. Television, it seems, is no longer the key source of information. We can communicate up to 5000 friends at once through simply sharing a video or link on Facebook. We no longer have to leave the house to shop, we can simply add products to a virtual 'basket' and have them delivered to our doorstep. For this reason, one dispatcher can run an online store making products available globally, which 'Kony 2012' are useing to sell t-shirts deploying their logo and message on the streets of towns and cities. We also see this response in the form of a blog post, which has also received recognition because of its topical content. One could even argue that this response is an example of networking across different internet platforms, the Tumblr post almost a reply to the original comment made by the 'Kony 2012' 'Vimeo' and YouTube campaign. 

I think what my post has mainly explored is an approach to viral campaigning. In communication and marketing, the internet simply must be considered as a platform for reaching an audience. We could apply this idea of 'sharing' content to our digital media to hopefully reach out to wider audiences. We can already see this tactic used in online games that coincide with Facebook. Popular games like 'Farmville' encourage the sharing of gifts and the ability to send out gift requests. This 'sharing' acts to further promote the game itself and entice new users.

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