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How Kony 2012 campaign went viral and focused rare attention on Africa

Invisible Children, through its Kony 2012 campaign against the Lord's Resistance Army, had a strong message, social media, and a strategy for how to channel a youthful desire to be involved.

By Curt HopkinsCorrespondent / March 9, 2012

Lisa Longoria, of Kennewick, Wash., uses Facebook after school at the Keewaydin Branch of the Mid-Columbia Libraries, Wednesday, March 7. On Tuesday, the Invisible Children organization launched a program it called Kony 2012 to draw attention to the head of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Joseph Kony. Longoria said she cried when she watched some of the Kony 2012 video by Invisible Families, that has gone viral thanks to social media.

Kai-Huei Yau/Tri-City Herald/AP

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On Tuesday, the Invisible Children organization launched a program it called Kony 2012 to draw attention to the head of the Lord’s Resistance Army, Joseph Kony, and agitate for his arrest.

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By Wednesday, #stopkony  was trending on Twitter. On Thursday, “uganda” (one of the bases of operation for the LRA) and “invisible children kony 2012” were trending on Google at no. 5 and no. 11 respectively. At last glance, its video on YouTube has been viewed more than 55 million times.

The effectiveness of this campaign to make Kony famous – and to pressure US politicians to commit to helping stop Kony's two-and-a-half decades of violence – is because of the way that Invisible Children took full possible advantage of current social media tools.

Other campaigns have used videos and social media to get their message out (consider the Enough Project's campaign against Congolese militias who fund their wars by controlling the trade in "Blood Minerals" such as coltan). But it takes more than having a message worth hearing, and the tools of social media to get that message out, to make a campaign like this one catch fire. It takes an insider’s view of the technology combined with an outsider’s view of the message.

And Invisible Children has some smart nerds at the helm of their operation.

The organization has been around since the film that gave them their name debuted in 2004. They have had the time to experiment with various tech tools and to make the group's name known. So when they came out with Kony 2012, they had a message (“elect” Kony to the public consciousness), online fund-raising, including t-shirts and other gear, “kits” that allowed interested people to promote the message, a very popular video, a healthy Twitter and Facebook presence, a blog, and the LRA Crisis Tracker, a mapping platform built over IC’s incident database.

“Starting with a pretty robust base of supporters, they did a great job of using one of the interesting social features of Twitter - the ability to enter someone's timeline by messaging them directly,” the Berkman Center’s Ethan Zuckerman told the Monitor. “The main thrust of the campaign, as I understand it, was to get 20 ‘culturemakers’ and 12 policymakers to make a statement supporting their campaign. By encouraging the folks they reached via e-mail and then via social networks to message those recipients, they mobilized a very rapid lobbying campaign."

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