14 March 2012

Author Jim Bentley

Unless you've been under a rock over the last week or so, you can't have missed mention of the Kony 2012 viral video - a 29 minute, 59 second video on YouTube, made to raise awareness of the crimes committed by Joseph Kony (Wiki) and his Lord's Resistance Army (Wiki) in Uganda. At the time of writing it had 72,902,379 views. Of those, 27,166,089 views were on a mobile device. It's been embedded in over 10,000,000 Facebook pages and set the Twitterverse alight when it went viral last Tuesday, with millions of people spreading the word about it through social media and old fashioned word of mouth.

Love it or hate it, you can't disagree that it's a major first. There have been thousands of viral videos for different causes like this before, but to date none of them has had the impact on the world as a whole that this one has. The Kony 2012 film had better funding than most and incredibly slick direction. Directly targeted at the "tween" Facebook generation to raise awareness of its cause, it's been an immeasurable success. Days after it went live, Invisible Children sold out of their "action kit" they'd put together to send to people signing up for a regular donation.

It's only comparable in impact to the CBC "Drive" video that was broadcast for the first time on live TV during Live Aid in 1985, at the time, one of the most ambitious live broadcasts ever attempted, it was reported that 95% of the TV sets on earth were tuned in to watch it. The video is a four minute-long piece of film, set to the song by The Cars it shows images of families starving in Ethiopia ending with a grieving mother wrapping her baby's body up for burial; this was a massive game changer. Concerned with running times, Bob Geldof (Live Aids organiser) didn't want to show the film. It was only run when David Bowie offered to cut the last song from his set to allow the air time.

When it first aired the world watched transfixed, thinking how could this happen? Donations increased dramatically. Billy Connolly wept live on TV. If not the first time, it was certainly one of the first times we'd seen graphic images of what was really going on out in the developing world. Putting on the biggest live worldwide satellite broadcast the world had seen at the time and talking about it is one thing, seeing it is something else. The impact of that short piece of film was immeasurable.

Now fast forward to 2012. Imagine for a second that'd never happened. Imagine we've never been exposed to the concept of third world famine and suddenly we were presented with this short video today. Chances are most of us would think "this is depressing" and click away to a video of a cat on a skateboard or a talking dog. Now compare that with the Kony video, a 30 minute video that has had a similar effect to the Drive video in an age of short video lengths and shorter attention spans, whether you agree or disagree with it or not you can't deny the impact it's had on the worlds press. It's held the top two of the top three positions on different news sites across the UK for a week, that's unprecedented, but what is it that's causing so much of a stir?

There's been a backlash, accusations of misleading and manipulating the facts to suit their own agenda and the film constantly cutting from images of poverty and violence in Uganda to images of tween American's empowering themselves throwing peace signs in their bright red Kony 2012 shirts. Obviously charity shouldn't be about empowering oneself - the reactions I've seen on my own personal social media feeds, however, are of people outraged at this happening in the 21st century and wanting to send money off to help the cause. It seems that the vast majority are willing to accept what's being showed to them on face value and not dig a little deeper in this age of freely available knowledge.

In this day and age, keeping someone's attention for 30 minutes with an Internet video is an amazing achievement in itself, regardless of agenda, purpose or message and certainly something to which attention should be paid. Kony 2012 is one of the first successful viral videos that's quite literally shaken the world. The next one might not be from the Kony 2012 camp, but a new genre of film making has just been recognised - it's slick, it's well produced and it makes a lot of money for its cause.