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KONY 2012 Shows Viral Video Is On A Streak

by Joe Kukura on March 28, 2012

Viral videos fight the power in 2012If you want to change the world, take notice—viral web videos are the new weapons of mass instruction. In recent weeks, a watershed of online videos has done as much to influence political sentiment than advertising or traditional organizing. The controversial but remarkably successful “Kony 2012” video is one of many recent examples showing how crafty video editors are the new kingmakers and power brokers of political discourse and international policy.

The 30-minute internet video “Kony 2012” is the biggest of these internet sensations, and provides the most useful game plan for creating a politically charged viral video success. The short film was produced by the advocacy group Invisible Children, and uses a documentary style video to call for the arrest of Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony. “Kony 2012” now has a staggering 100-million plus views.

The success of “Kony 2012” was carefully planned. Facebook and Twitter user bases were deliberately cultivated in advance, and designated celebrities were targeted as potential spokespeople before they’d ever even heard of Mr. Kony.  The filmmakers’ efforts succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Mashable crunched the numbers and declared “Kony 2012” as “the most viral video in history”.


Once you find viral videos online use RealPlayer to download and save them on your computer. Then watch the videos whenever you want.

Given all the attention and discussion the video has generated, it’s hard to believe it was released only a few weeks ago. Since its March 5 online debut, YouTube video statistics show “Kony 2012” has 85 million views and counting. Throw in another 17 million views on Vimeo, according to that web site’s counter. The cause is now the cover story of the March 26, 2012 issue of TIME magazine.

Celebrities can’t embrace this trendy cause du jour quickly enough. Angelina Jolie publicly called for Joseph Kony’s arrest after seeing the video. Rihanna went straight to “Access Hollywood” to declare her support for Invisible Children. Bill Gates, Nicki Minaj, and Kim Kardashian have all tweeted endorsements of the cause. Even one of Charlie Sheen’s adult film star ex-girlfriends has recorded an Invisible Children online advocacy video called “Naked for KONY 2012”. You can Google that one on your own, preferably while not at work.


Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell probably wishes he was invisible after a compromising March 15 incident was captured on video and publicized on In the incident, recorded during the height of the video’s popularity, the “Kony 2012” film director and narrator allegedly runs naked through the streets of San Diego, pounding his fists against the sidewalk, and shouting incoherent theories about the devil. With the whole incident captured on video, that “allegedly” hedge is obviously less convincing.

A wave of international criticism of the film has focused on less titillating concerns. Ugandan advocates and actual Ugandans accuse the filmmakers of wild inaccuracies and irresponsible advocacy. Joseph Kony, for instance, is no longer believed to be in Uganda, as the film indicates, and his remaining armies are known to be far smaller than indicated. Ugandan journalist and blogger Rosebell Kagumire said of the film, “this paints a picture of Uganda six or seven years ago, that is totally not how it is today. It’s highly irresponsible.”


It’s no secret that viral videos can sneak past firewalls and internet censors, after social networking and on-the-ground video helped fuel the wave of protests and uprisings known as the “Arab Spring”. President Obama used the medium recently in a direct video address to Iranian citizens on the occasion of  the Persian New Year. “Because of the actions of the actions of the Iranian regime, an electronic curtain has fallen around Iran,” the President says, before eventually issuing the obligatory holiday wishes and showing that he can speak a tiny bit of Farsi himself.

The speech wasn’t just subtitled in Farsi, it was also distributed on a Farsi-language Facebook page, Google+ page, and Twitter account. The web video is all party of a larger diplomatic strategy to foster Iranian citizen activism and circumvent the Iranian government.


Web videos aren’t always this President’s best friend, though. The 2012 presidential campaign throws this President some curve balls, in the form the news aggregator Buzzfeed and their ace video reporter, Andrew Kaczynski. Mr. Kaczynski’s devious specialty is sifting through volumes of decades-old archival videos of candidates to highlight their previous flip-flops, faux paus, and embarrassing moments. When he turned his sights to President Obama, Kaczynski unearthed a 1991 video from the president’s student days at Harvard wherein a young Obama is seen passionately advocating for diversity on the Harvard Law School faculty. Conservative media and blogs jumped all over the footage, with Fox News’ Sean Hannity declaring on-air that the President “seems to always gravitate towards the most radical people.”

The Republican candidates for President have also been hit by the Buzzfeed video buzzsaw. Front-running Republican candidate Mitt Romney was put on the defensive by a 1994 video in which he’s seen arguing in favor of abortion rights—a position he now publicly opposes. Whether you like them or not, Mr. Kaczynski’s Buzzfeed videos pull off a clever sleight of hand by turning the presidential candidates into their own worst enemies.


 The do-it-yourself, distribute-it-yourself accessibility of online video shows that any pajama-wearing basement dweller can affect an election just by uploading a simple, compelling video. The clip doesn’t necessarily have to be accurate or true. A patient enough video editor can literally make anyone say anything, using archival footage of their previous speeches or appearances, and schlepping the words or images together to produce any intended effect.

The latest example is “Will the Real Mitt Romney Please Stand Up?”, a not-quite-Safe-For-Work audio/video mashup that splices Mr. Romney’s public speeches into a faithful parody of the Eminem single “My Name Is”. Mr. Romney’s words are edited into a nicely rhyming cadence, but in such a way that recounts and emphasizes all of his campaign mistakes and miscommunications. The video showcases highly partisan tactics, and slings all the mud of a paid political commercial.

Perhaps the biggest viral video hit of the campaign thus far is Bad Lip Reading, a user-generated video meme wherein video of public officials gets dubbed with irreverent and nonsensical audio. The words seem to correlate quite perfectly with the candidates’ lip movements – except the words are outlandishly uncharacteristic statements like “I can probably freak on you,” or, “Your sister threw a sea fish at my TV.”

Sure, these are all funny—until your preferred candidate gets edited into some fake video that makes them appear to, say, run naked down a San Diego residential sidewalk while shouting incoherently. The obvious risk is that we’ll soon see the misleading practice of unacknowledged editing, with an official’s words or actions manipulated on video to misrepresent their actual behavior. The appeal of online political video is growing without any ethical guidelines. What starts today with “Real Slim Shady” parody videos may someday evolve into real shady videos, with the emerging medium used to intentionally mislead online audiences.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mad Melodies July 26, 2012 at 12:38 pm

Awesome post! But did that guy really run through the streets naked lol? I thought that was just a rumor

2 Joe Kukura July 26, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Mad Melodies… Yes, he did! But that is not the sort of video I would typically embed for people to see.

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