'Kony 2012' Goes Viral, Ignites Controversy

In March 2012, the U.S.-based charity Invisible Children released a 30-minute online video entitled "Kony 2012" about Joseph Kony, the chief of the Ugandan rebel group the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). The video aims to bring worldwide notice to Kony, whose group is known for its brutality, and to bring him to justice. The LRA's documented atrocities include large-scale massacres of civilians, rape and mutilation of civilians, and the kidnapping of children who are forced to become fighters or sex slaves. In less than a week, Invisible Children's video was viewed more than 80 million times, making it the fastest-spreading online video ever. It is unique among videos that have "gone viral" on such a large scale, as it is much longer than other clips that have been viewed millions of times and it attempts to tackle a much more serious subject.

Though the video has generated a huge amount of interest online, there has been considerable criticism of how it presents the material about Kony and Uganda and of the group behind it. Critics argue that the video oversimplifies the years of violence in Uganda in which Kony participated, leaving out many of the conflict's complexities in favor of portraying Kony as the lone culprit. They also accuse Invisible Children of suggesting that the only path to justice involves the aid of Western nations, such as the U.S., in the capture of Kony.

Critics also say the video exaggerates the threat that Kony and the LRA actually represent to Ugandans. The militaries of Uganda, Congo and the semiautonomous region of south Sudan in late 2008 through early 2009 waged a campaign to defeat the LRA, but failed to wipe out the group or capture its leaders. The LRA reportedly has several hundred remaining fighters, and is operating in northeastern Congo, South Sudan (which became an independent nation in 2011) and western Central African Republic, though on a much smaller scale than it was at the height of the conflict. Many observers feel that the most pressing challenge for Uganda in 2012 is the resettlement of some 2.5 million people who have been displaced by the 20-year conflict. Critics of Invisible Children point out that the group only spends a small fraction of its funding on ground operations to rebuild the devastated areas of Uganda.

Invisible Children responded to criticism of "Kony 2012" in the online sphere in which it had become so popular, posting a defense of the video and the group's work in Central Africa on its website. While it admits to purposefully omitting many details from the film, the group describes "Kony 2012" as "a first entry point to this conflict for many." The statement adds that Invisible Children's efforts in Central Africa "focus on locally-led long-term development programs that enable children to take responsibility for their own futures and the futures of their countries."