media economy politics

Kony2012: networks, activism and community

In the short history of social media, Kony2012 is now the most viral video ever, having reached 100 million views inside six days. Its success has been quickly examined by media analysts and some of the early findings are fascinating for what they reveal about the spread of information in the new media economy.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project details (as I noted in my earlier post) how the spread of the video shows “that young adults and their elders at times have different news agendas and learn about news in different ways.”

SocialFlow undertook a data visualization (see above) of the first 5,000 Twitter users who posted the #Kony2012 hashtag. What the clustering of connections reveals is that the hashtag started trending on 1 March before the video was posted online, and the trend came from Birmingham, Alabama. SocialFlow reports:

This movement did not emerge from the big cities, but rather small-medium sized cities across the Unites States. It is heavily supported by Christian youth, many of whom post Biblical psalms as their profile bios.

This fits with Elliot Ross’s assessment of Invisible Children as a missionary organisation coming out of the American Evangelical tradition.

This is the basis of SocialFlow’s analysis that a pre-existing network of activists was the driver for Kony2012’s success. Those activists were primed for the video’s release prior to its posting, and it was they who used their social media channels to bombard celebrities with mentions as a way of getting attention. This means that while celebrity retweets were important in fuelling the spread of Kony2012, the campaign did not begin with celebrity action.

The Civic Paths research group at the University of Southern California has been studying Invisible Children’s campaign strategies for some time, revealing how they use transmedia storytelling to mobilise and train young activists. When the Kony video talks of an eight year campaign and shows young activists throughout, this is what it is referring to. All this leads Henry Jenkins of Civic Paths to write:

The Kony 2012 video did not “go viral”; rather, its circulation depended on the hundreds of thousands of young people who already felt connected to the organization and to this cause through their participation in school based clubs and grassroots campaigns over almost a decade. These young people were among the first to receive the video, pass it along through their social networks to their friends and classmates, and thus, start a process which ultimately got the attention of millions around the world.

The Kony video did not go viral in the sense of magically taking off just because it was placed on social media platforms or because it was championed by celebrities alone.

It went viral because there was a pre-existing network of activists, built up over years through Invisible Children’s media strategies, who used social media channels to spread it far and wide.

Above all else, it shows that in the many different contexts of the new media economy community is an essential concept for all. Far from simply being the poster child for a new generation of social media activism that overtakes and replaces more conventional campaign strategies, the Kony2012 campaign collapses boundary between new/old modes of activism.

Picture: [Data Viz] KONY2012: See How Invisible Networks Helped a Campaign Capture the World’s Attention, 14 March 2012.

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