Emergence of ‘Clicktivism’ and ‘Slacktivism’ Through Kony 2012 Campaign

The release of the Kony 2012 documentary by the human rights group Invisible Children sparked a new type of social activism through different media outlets, especially social media. The virality of this video also demonstrated the potentials and challenges of participatory politics.

  • Kony 2012: Thirty minute documentary created by the human rights group Invisible Children, that rapidly spread the inhumane treatment of children in Uganda under Joseph Kony’s reign over the LRA, calling for support and action for its millions of viewers over a global audience.
  • Virality: The rapid spread of the Kony 2012 video was not spontaneous, the IC had an established community with developed strategies in new media and grassroots circulation in order to reach the diverse participants it had hoped for. From their well established social media presence, the IC were able to make their video a chain reaction across different platforms.
    • 35 million views in the first day alone.
  • Cover The Night: The movement of reaching an audience of millions was a tremendous success for the IC, as well as promoting their street movement Cover the Night by covering communities with posters, stickers, and various types of propaganda. Announcements of this protests circulated among social networks but the physical turnout of the movement was greatly overestimated.
  • Public Debate: Jenkins writes, “New York Times’ Room for Debate introduced their discussion on Kony 2012 with this question: ‘Social media definitely have the power to bring attention to terrible problems– but is there a downside, if the ‘call to action’ is wrong headed or if these campaigns give young people a false sense of what it really takes to create change?'” (67).
  • “In promoting the illusion that surfing the web can change the world, clicktivism is to activism as McDonalds is to a slow-cooked meal.” (67).
    • Kony 2012 was one of the first global issues to be brought to global attention through rapid spreading social media, but is awareness enough to make a change?
(CNN/’Kony 2012’ creators talk criticism/Mar 13 2012/YouTube)

This CNN video features the Invisible Children CEO Ben Keesey and filmmaker Jason Russell, as they directly rebut criticism of their film along with its efforts by the people of Uganda that are directly being affected under the force of Joseph Kony. Survivors of Kony’s brutal treatment voice their opinions on how the United States is projecting the problems of real people for their own reasons and intentions other than helping the cause. Keesey and Russell respond with evidence on all aspects of their campaign to prove that their intentions were in fact in the interest of stopping the country at war.

Only up to five days after the circulation of the documentary, approximately 135 negative memes related to the campaign were circulated, criticizing the Invisible Children and its efforts. Memes such as this spread so rapidly due to the pop culture references and humor that represent. The creator of this image had the intention to reach a wide audience with the point being that change on issues as big as Kony 2012 were not going to be made by means of viewing and sharing material on social media.

(Barry Blitt/’Fighting Back’/Oct 24 2011/The New Yorker)

This political cartoon demonstrates the modern day activism that social media and ‘clicktivism’ has created. Even a year before the Kony 2012 campaign, this idea had been around even in print media. Marchers and physical protesters holding signs about making no change or not even wanting to make a change, is essentially a perfect visual representation of what sharing a post “for a cause” is and how ineffective it is but yet is still considered some type of activism.

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