Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Awareness and simplification: The KONY 2012 campaign

To increase the awareness level of a message, advertisers and campaign managers know well about the psychological effects of simplifying matters on people’s attention. Short communications are persuasive and affect people’s readiness to engage in different kind of actions. However, short communications have to simplify complex topics an may lead to the problem of not taking into account the entirety of a complex problem, for example by focusing only on a specific relationship among many affected interest groups. To avoid a misleading reduction of complex issues, I argue that the intention to increase the level of people’s awareness by simplifying communications should be accompanied by a careful consideration of the corresponding impacts in a more fine-grained stakeholder network. An insightful example is the viral campaign KONY 2012, which entered the social media in early March 2012.
The core of the KONY 2012 campaign is a short film created by the non-profit organization Invisible Children, Inc. The film documents the brutal abduction and cruel abuse of children by Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to use them as child soldiers in an ongoing conflict in northern Uganda. The LRA is a guerilla group and its leader, Joseph Kony, was indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court in 2005, but still has evaded capture.
The KONY 2012 short film spread virally in the World Wide Web, mainly through social media channels like YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook and Twitter. Within a month the clip had been viewed more than 90 million times and the social media campaign raised a tremendous awareness all over the world. Celebrities and politicians started to support the concerns of Invisible Children, Inc. to bring Joseph Kony to justice.
However, criticism about simplifying the complex conflict in northern Uganda arose shortly after the film’s release. Invisible Children, Inc. was accused of providing a black-and-white picture of the situation and of manipulating the public opinion. For example, the film suggests that violence in northern Uganda will come to an end and the abducted children will be able to return to their families as soon as Joseph Kony would be captured. Of course, Kony is a dangerous and cruel individual and bringing him to justice would be important. But reducing the problems in northern Uganda to the faith of Joseph Kony is deceptive. The history of the conflict is far more complex and includes many other interest groups like, for example, the Ugandan army and government, of which many seem highly suspicious too. Further, the film neglects the fact that most LRA forces, including Joseph Kony, fled northern Uganda in 2006 to be dispersed now across three neighboring countries.
As the example of KONY 2012 shows, awareness and simplification have to be balanced so that creators of social media campaigns are able to achieve their objectives and at the same time meet their responsibility towards other stakeholder groups affected by complex problems. The narrow spotlight on Joseph Kony led Invisible Children, Inc. to donate funds to support military action for capturing the LRA leader. But what about the rehabilitation and reintegration of former child soldiers as another affected interest group?


  1. This was a very insightful post! I have been trying to tell my friends that run business's that strong social media campaigns in this day and age will help bring in more clients. Thank you for sharing this with us!

  2. The Kony 2012 is a awareness program. Read the post to get deatiled information