On Friday the group behind the most viral video of all time, KONY 2012, began phase two of their campaign: “Cover The Night.” Their goal is to have International war criminal, Joseph Kony arrested by the end of this year. Where the first phase involved spreading a visceral Youtube video, “Cover the Night” had activists plaster posters throughout their communities to raise awareness.
Since the video debuted, Congress passed resolutions condemning Joseph Kony’s brutality; President Obama sent 100 US military advisers to Uganda; and the African Union dispatched 5,000 soldier’s to bring Kony to justice. However, based on “Cover the Night’s” performance in Washington, DC, phase II of KONY2012 shows the impotence of digital activism.
While the social Web has proven useful for demonstrators in Russia, Iran, and North Africa, many have correctly noted that networks like facebook and twitter are merely protest tools. It’s easy for Internet users to “like” a social cause’s webpage or link to a provocative video, however the act of leaving the keyboard and physically participating is more difficult.
The idea behind “Cover The Night” was novel and ambitious. All across the country Americans would wake to find their cities covered in strange posters. Curious passersby would google Kony’s name and learn about his atrocities. By raising the public’s awareness, KONY2012 believed more politicians would be compelled to take military action against Kony’s militia, the Lord’s Resistance Army.
All KONY2012 asked of its advocates was a few hours on Friday night to hang fliers. But the digital enthusiasm did not seem to convert. On a two hour bike ride, from the National Mall to Shaw, this observer found just over 30 flyers. The heaviest concentration was in Foggy Bottom, but even there, the posters looked less like a coordinated effort and more like standard urban graffiti. Local Facebook and Twitter groups revealed hard work by DC advocates Friday night, but the overall outcome– the visibility of posters Saturday morning– was unimpressive.
But to say that KONY2012 was a complete failure is unfair. Their exists no map or geo-taglist of all the posters nor was the visual survey scientific or comprehensive. The takeaway of “Cover The Night” should instead be on the limits and potential of netroots activism. It’s clear that Washingtonians are interested in pressing political issues, but KONY2012 didn’t capture enough loyal support.