A reflection on KONY 2012


All it took was the arrangement of four letters and four numbers to create a sign that was to hijack all forms of social media, setting a benchmark for the new age participatory culture through challenging social and political ideologies on a global scale. This sign, as you may have all come to love or hate, is KONY 2012.

(Image Source: The Kony 2012 Is Here, Top News, 10/3/2012)

The KONY 2012 campaign has transitioned itself from merely the signifier to the signified, as the decoding of messages within the KONY documentary, the foundation for the KONY 2012 sign, have become a point in people’s lives where they then can identify change and this will often lead to decisions/ new ways of thinking/evolving. (Kligler-Vilenchik 2012)

Kim (2004) references David Morley’s Study of the Nationwide Audience (1980), which outlines three hypothetical positions a reader may occupy. The mainstream media has encouraged these readings through its various representations and reflections of the KONY 2012 phenomena Worldwide. Morley’s concept of the negotiated reading can be seen in accordance with the medias initial representation of the KONY operation in creating global awareness of Joseph Kony’s inhumane actions through establishing inquisitiveness and interest. Curiosity, in this instance, is the key, where the medias initial interpretation of KONY 2012 as a mysterious uprising encourages readers to not only accept the medias intended caution to the issue but to also modify this reading into a reflection of ones particular ideological views and opinions.

The dominant or hegemonic reading, detailed by Morley (1980), foresees an audience whom accepts the preferred reading into KONY 2012, this being the medias message for simply creating global awareness associated with social and political issues. In conforming to this dominant reading, those with a vested interest of the KONY crusade succeed in following Invisible Children’s owner Jason Russell’s mission to ‘Make Kony Famous’, where the social activist encourages citizens to “Watch the film. Sign the pledge. Join the revolution.”

This dominant reading into the global issue see’s the medias representation of the integral message, being the emphasis on individuals and communities have the capacity and influence to make the World a far more just place, through reblogging and sharing the KONY documentary to raise awareness.  Juxtaposed to this is the medias more skeptical portrayal of the viral campaign, perceiving the Invisible Children Organisations crusade as a fraud.

Readers of KONY 2012 have identified the campaign as hosting a neo-colonialist agenda, sparking debate as to where the proceeds of the mission are going, as Oysten (2012) mentions how last year the organization spent $8,676,614. Only 32% went to direct services with much of the rest going to staff salaries, travel and transport, and film production. This particular depiction of the viral KONY 2012 movement by the media harnesses what David Morley (1980) describes as an oppositional or counter hegemonic reading, encouraging readers of the global phenomena to reject the preferred pro Invisible Children stance just as the media has done on several occasions.

In keeping with both the media and the readers oppositional take on the issue, is the reporting of the campaign which utilizes a differed anti KONY stance, presented as a reflection of the detriment it has caused to Uganda’s social and economic instability. As presented in Global: Africa (2012) this reading notes just how reputation makers of KONY 2012 have attempted to taint with the lie that Uganda was still at conflict with the LRA. Despite Ugandan Ambassador Kamunanwire’s claim that the Ugandan community is free, safe and stable, the media continues to present to and encourage readers to indulge in this oppositional stance in an attempt to challenge individual perceptions within the modern mediated public sphere.

Through following the medias various perceptions and representations on the viral KONY 2012 movement, I have been able to distinguish and reflect upon just how differed readings can produce unique meanings of a significant issue. Steering away from Habermauss’s traditional definition of the public sphere, the 21st century embraces reality; the mediated public sphere of 2012 enabled by the diversification of media, where KONY 2012 has proved to set a benchmark for social media use on a global scale, enabling all citizens within the new age participatory culture to engage with and develop their own readings into the KONY matter in itself.




KONY 2012: False Assumptions


The words KONY 2012 have somewhat vanished into a state of non existence, in terms of the media, as what had once appeared to be an acute moral panic has become that of ‘old news’. Although, steering away from representations of the viral campaign as merely a pro or anti Kony stance, the media has recently begun documenting and reporting on the phenomena as a reflection of the instability of Uganda, “Considering the collateral damage it has done to Uganda’s reputation.” 

 The media, however, has falsely represented documentations of the viral campaigns movement, as Uganda’s Ambassador Perezi Kamunanwire mentions how over the last ten years, the number of tourist who visits Uganda has grown to over a million. This is clear proof that Uganda is a free, safe and stable country worthy of visiting and doing business with. In addition to this first hand account of Uganda’s stability, the #KonyisnotinUganda hash tag on social media site Twitter, was developed in attempts to emphasise that Kony is in fact absent from Uganda and has been for since 2006, where this can then bring one’s attention to the underlying questions imposed by Annika Neujahr:

  • Do these facts make the matter less urgent?
  • Do these arguments in any way invalidate the aim of the video?

 Whether the media has chosen to portray the phenomena as that of a detriment to the Ugandan community intentionally or unintentionally Uganda is not in conflict. Uganda is a modern, developing country which enjoys peace, stability and security, Ugandan President Mbabazi assured viewers, inviting anyone who doubts it to come and see for themselves, nevertheless the media continues to challenge ones perception of the country, alluding to the idea that Kony continues to cause outrage to the economy and society as “reputation makers of Kony 2012’ attempted to taint this with the lie that Uganda was still at conflict with LRA still within.

 Opening as a media outrage and transitioning into what Milton Allimadi describes as destructive propaganda, the KONY 2012 campaign has become that of a reflection of the moral panics destruction of the country Uganda, initiating and developing upon false assumptions in regards to the economic stability of the country as opposed to representing the campaign in a factual and objective manner.


Make ‘Kony’ famous, or make ‘Phony’ famous?


It is no surprise that the Kony 2012 campaign became an immediate phenomena and instant topic on Facebook and Twitter. Being the emotion crammed video that it is, the short film manages to truly tug at the heartstrings of individuals worldwide, lending viewers to a belief that they have the power to make great change and ‘Make Kony Famous’. “Who are you to end a war”, I’m telling you “Who are you not to”- Jason Russell, Co founder of Invisible Children, KONY 2012 video

Recent debate, however, has shifted the media’s representation of the Kony cause, moving from the initial ‘Wake up call’ of Ugandan Joseph Konys inhumane practices, towards a far more pessimistic portrayal; the idea that the Kony campaign is a phony. The invisible children organisation is “being attacked — not by Kony, but by critics whose voices are raised louder about this video than they ever were by Konys atrocities.” -Dan Pollotta (2012), Harvard Business Review, “The Kony 2012 Controversy”

Being a part of this participatory culture, I am sure you have all heard about the criticsm and reasoning behind the Kony missions label as a phony, such as its neo-colonialist agenda and the mystery of where the proceeds are going, therefore I have refrained myself from merely stating the facts and will endeavor to entice you through briefly exploring the channels of media used in the representation of this so called yet debatable scam.

(Image Source: Steven Rudd, Twitter Post, March 31st 2012)

Not only this particular image which was posted on Twitter, but numerous images of the same structure have gone viral on the Internet, becoming a somewhat outlet for presenting the campaign in a negative light, drawing back to the title of this post: “Make Kony famous, or make Phony famous?”. This statement simply recognises the far greater effort being placed into proving that the Invisible children organisation is a fraud as opposed to focusing on the slogan make Kony famous to stop social injustice.

Face to face communication has also portrayed the Kony cause under this negative light, in which I overheard a conversation between two teenagers on the train to University relaying phrases such as “I swear this Kony dude isn’t even in Uganda anymore” and “the whole thing is a dud”. On social networking site Tumblr an anonymous blogger has provided an insight into her negative take on Kony 2012; “Can we rank the problems of the world in order of importance? I think that the news seems to do this for us. Kony 2012 is now more important than world hunger, lack of clean water, rape, murder.”

Fraud or not, the Kony movement has set a benchmark for social media use, enabling all citizens of modern participatory culture to engage with and form their own opinion on the Kony matter itself. Make Kony famous, or make Phony famous? With the tools and ability to execute both perspectives, the choice is yours.

(Quick Edit: 3/4/12)




By now, I’m almost certain that those of you who read this blog have been recently educated on the ‘Kony craze’, even if this was through simply viewing my first blog post. There is, although, one aspect that may differ from individual to individual; how did you come across this universal issue..

 I still remember the 5th of March; it was like any ordinary afternoon, where I would sign into my Facebook account after returning home from Uni. On this particular occasion, the first post to appear on my news feed read ‘KONY 2012’, although I merely scanned the post then proceeded with checking my notifications. “You have been invited to the group MAKE KONY FAMOUS”, “You have been invited to the group KONY 2012”. What? Two out of Three notifications mentioned this so called ‘Kony’. I then refreshed the home page to see not only the initial Kony orientated post, but a news feed flooded with corresponding peculiar phrases.

Success. This is exactly what the Invisible Children’s Organisation and Leader Jason Russell had anticipated; creating global awareness of Joseph Konys inhumane actions via social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, through establishing inquisitiveness and interest, where curiosity proved to be the key initiator of their viral campaign.

 Worldwide communities have become consumed by this overpowering curiosity, where the campaign has been presented as an ‘eye opener’ to social and political issues which have gone unnoticed, fashioned by a hijack of social media outlets. Until individuals’ computers became flooded with Kony content, the likes of Joseph Kony and the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army were in many cases unheard of. Thus, there was no chance of bringing an end to the LRA’s horrific doings if hardly anyone knew of the Army, let alone the routines of this militia.

 It is amazing to think that the intrinsic human sensation of curiosity has created a social media sensation in its self, presenting to the World a campaign hosting an element of mystery intertwined with a willing desire to acquire knowledge and power. The power to…

 (Image source: Impacted Nurse.com, Stop Kony)
(Quick edit: 4/4/12)



“Humanities greatest desire is to belong and connect, we share what we love, and this reminds us of what we all have in common. This connection is changing the way the world works.”

 Sounds familiar? I’d say so.

 This introduction to my first official post was extracted from a unique foreword in itself: The introduction to the viral phenomenon, the KONY 2012 video, narrated by activist and co founder of the Invisible Children Corporation’, Jackson Russell.

 Posted on ‘Vimeo‘ on February 20, the remarkable short film accumulated 13.5 million views; however it wasn’t until 12 noon on the 5th of March that the World was going to experience one of the greatest social media revolutions known to man. With a record breaking 81,853,498 views (as of 18/ 3/2012), and Over 20,000 “Kony”-related videos uploaded in the past week, YouTube became the key driving force for the KONY 2012 campaign, where individuals are strongly encouraged to “Watch it. Share it. Stop at nothing”, as stated by Russell.

(Graph source: ORC Social: March 8, 2012 | Jenny Verbitsky, KONY 2012 Goes Viral in Record Time Thanks to YouTube, Twitter)

 The film indoctrinates one aim; ‘Make Kony Famous’, in the hope of bringing the leader of the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army to his end through creating awareness of his excruciatingly unjust doings through the use of social media. One integral message is also conveyed; that everyone has the capacity and the influence to make the world a far better place. By sharing or re blogging the video this awareness needed to Stop Joseph Kony is not only being established but also reinforced.

 With modern technology and social networking at our fingertips, any issue can be made global, where the presentation of KONY 2012 on YouTube has been that of an influential, somewhat life changing message set to trigger that little social activist within us all. KONY 2012 has managed to ‘get the ball rolling’ in the move towards a more socially and politically just World, where by achieving the campaigns key objective, to capture the infamous Kony, mankind is making this desired transition.

 After viewing the video and exercising that social activist within, I feel inspired to leave you with one message, as Russell would say, “Watch the film. Sign the pledge. Join the revolution”


(Quick Edit: 3/4/12)