#KONY2012: The birth of Hashtag Activism

On the 7th of March 2012 I woke up to an abundance of Facebook posts relating to #Kony2012, instructing me to “STOP KONY NOW” and “MAKE KONY FAMOUS”. Just as every other human in the world utilising social media did that day.

I, along with all of my friends, was then invited to a Facebook event called “#CoverTheNight”. Apparently us youths were supposed to take over the streets of Cape Town in an effort to “make Kony famous”. I clicked attending, as did all of my friends, of course. However, I didn’t end up taking part in any such an event. Actually, I don’t know anyone who did.

Before this, I’d only ever used the hashtag on Twitter. Even more, I’d only used Twitter for things like retweeting @funnyordie tweets or begging members of One Direction to father my children (it was a phase, okay). Suddenly the hashtag had moved over to Facebook and what’s more, it was being used for online activism and encouraging political and social consciousness. I’ll admit I wasn’t too sure how I felt about this.

The following Friday night I went to an 18th birthday party where the theme was “I passed out and woke up wearing…” (I know, très original). Someone came dressed as a Kony child soldier. I remember thinking it was a bit insensitive, but I didn’t say anything because anyone who did was told to “lighten up”.

After this, everything regarding #Kony2012 just seemed to peter out. Today, if you search “Kony2012” on Facebook and Twitter you’ll find posts like “so did anyone catch that Kony 2012 guy or naw” and “4 years ago, we all cared about Kony 2012 for a collective 12 minutes”.

So, after all this, what exactly was the point of #Kony2012? How did the movement come about and what was it trying to achieve? More importantly, did it actually achieve anything?

Well, here are the facts:

On the 5th of February 2012, a non-profit organisation called Invisible Children uploaded a half-an-hour-long video titled “Kony 2012” onto YouTube. The video was directed and narrated by filmmaker Jason Russell who had travelled to Sudan (along with Bobby Bailey and Laren Poole) in an effort to document the genocide happening at the time. In just 72 hours, the YouTube video received over 43 million views and on the 7th of March the hashtags “MakeKonyFamous”, “#Kony2012” and “#StopKony” were trending globally.

The Kony 2012 movement aimed to arrest Joseph Kony, the Ugandan guerrilla group leader and head of the Lord’s Resistance Army, before the end of 2012. Essentially,it sought to utilise online media platforms to create viral awareness about Kony’s use of children as soldiers and sex slaves and to “make Kony famous”.

On the one hand, the campaign was successful in achieving its explicit goal of making Joseph Kony a household name and exposing him for his crimes against humanity. However, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army still manages to evade capture over three years later, which begs the question of whether hashtag activism really has the power to create true change.

And just incase you’ve been living under a rock for the past three-and-a-bit years, here is the Invisible Children‘s “KONY 2012” film:




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