09 April 2012

Why Kony 2012: Part II Failed

Invisible Children released what they are calling the second part to Kony 2012. Made in response to criticisms leveled at the first video, Kony 2012 serves two purposes. First, it is to give more information to the audience of the first video in regards to the LRA and how end the group's atrocities.

This time, IC discusses a bit about the history Kony and the LRA, includes further videos of survivors and communities and lays out a clear play for how to defeat him. This all ties it back to action, as seen in the first video, with the urging of IC to contact political leaders and participate in their 'Cover the Night' event in a few weeks.

I may be a bit hasty in saying this, but the video is a failure. Little of it has to do with the content. It succeeds in terms of providing more information and history about the LRA. IC deserve credit for taking this concern seriously and putting it into a video. I still find disagreement with the way that solutions are presented as coming from outsiders, but that is more of a fundamental disagreement with IC. This time around, they do a much better job of explicitly saying they want to support local solutions, but the overall message of the video and the tone of IC trends towards what can be done to save the people of Central Africa from the LRA.

 Kony 2012 Part II is failure because of its low reach. The first video has 87 million views on YouTube compared to 1.3 million for the second. Including the views from Vimeo, part 1 views rise to 105 million while part 2 stays at 1.3 million. That means that the second part of Kony 2012 retained 1% of its audience. 

There is time for more to view the video, but the numbers are not racing at anywhere near the rate of the first video. A series of videos for the "Cover the Night" rally have been released during the same time. The highest audience of the group is currently at 59,000. While none of these numbers can quantify the reach that IC has in terms of social media and its local chapters, it does go to show the importance of Kony 2012.

The problems of the first video are what inform the majority of people who are not active in the Stop Kony campaign. Some may have seen the responses by the likes of Teju Cole or watch the screening of the film in Uganda as reported by Al Jazeera, but the views seem to show that the appetite is low for more. The backlash and the unfortunate public breakdown of Jason Russell may have something to do with the lower numbers, but one cannot be for sure.

What I believe to be likely is that the first video was so well done and powerful to many that it did not encourage further want to learn more. By orienting itself towards action, people became focused on how to support the work of IC and bring Kony to justice. 

All of this is to say that the first video mattered a lot. Though casually dismissed as "armchair critics" by Nick Kristof, the concerns expressed were done so because of an understanding that such a large audience was a big deal. IC did something remarkable in reaching over 100 million people with a video about a Ugandan rebel who is committing atrocities in Central Africa. The first impressions do in fact matter in the end, for better and for worse.

Part II addressed some of these concerns and was much better than the first in terms of the facts and focus. However, it pales in comparison to reach.  It was never going to reach the heights of the first video and that is why it is a failure. Some people still hold the story told in the first video to be true.

Bloggers pointed to Chimamanda Adichie's TED talk on the danger of a single story when discussing the first video. They were right on in doing so given the lack of audience in the second video. Advocacy uses the metaphor of a ladder where people are engaged in steps upward from rung to rung. Losing 99% of your audience is a massive gap if that is the theory of engagement.

The failure of Kony 2012: Part II is due in part to the success of the first video which left little room for further learning or engagement. NGO communicators can learn that storytelling is a powerful tool to reach people, but it can shut down discussions and learning as easily as it can open engagement.

IC's step forward is welcome as it may slowly reach more people and possibly prove me wrong. Yet, we live in a post-Kony 2012 world so to speak. Hopefully the same mistakes can be avoided while learning the lessons of what made the video so wildly successful.

The next benchmark will be the success of 'Cover the Night' on April 20. I have kept an eye out for Kony 2012 posters and listings wherever I travel. I spotted a poster when I was at the College of the Holy Cross a few weeks ago, but have yet to see anything else. If anyone sees any posters, art, etc please share it and ping me @viewfromthecave on twitter. I want to get a sense of the reach of the campaign. While the number of people viewing the videos is easy to measure, the action-oriented part becomes a bit tricky.