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‘Connie 2012,’ 10 years later

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‘Connie 2012,’ 10 years later

As of early 2012, much of the world had never heard of the Central African warlord Joseph Kony who, according to UNICEF counts, kidnapped thousands of children and used them as soldiers and killed more than 2.5 million. were responsible for the displacement. people all over the region.

But that will change on March 5. Jason Russell, founder of the non-profit Invisible Children, directed a film titled “Connie 2012” to highlight a violent crisis.

“We felt that if the people of the Western world knew about this atrocity, it would stop in a few days,” Mr Russell, 43, said in a phone interview.

In a video released to YouTube by Invisible Children, Mr. Russell explains the struggle for his 5-year-old son, Gavin, in aptly simple words, who appears in the video alongside inspirational images of furious Ugandan children and North American activists . Finally, Mr. Russell issues a call to action: to celebrities, policymakers and anyone else looking to help make Joseph Cooney a household name.

When Oprah Winfrey tweeted “Connie 2012,” its views grew from 66,000 to nine million, according to Gilead Lotto, a data scientist who compiled a visual analysis of its spread. Justin Bieber, Rihanna and Kim Kardashian shared it too. Within a week, the video had reached 100 million – a record on YouTube at the time – and Mr. Connie became the target of a global civilian search.

Ten years later, Mr. Connie remains at large, Gavin has started high school, and Mr. Russell still grapples with the mixed legacy of “Connie 2012”. At a time when a constant stream of videos on TikTok, Instagram and Twitter depict the real-time destruction of Ukrainian cities by Russian forces, the film reads as a relic of what was described as a techno-optimistic post-Arab Spring. Is. The harbinger of an era of seemingly endless footage of violence and conflict on the digital landscape and social media.

Invisible Children, which was founded in 2004 by Mr Russell, Bobby Bailey and Lauren Poole, produced films about Mr Coney and his rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army, at events across the country, reaching a total audience of five million. had performed. According to Mr Russell. “Connie 2012,” he said, “is the first time we aggressively went after social media.”

In his analysis of the video’s spread, Mr. Loton, the data scientist, noted dense clusters of activity in Dayton, Ohio and Birmingham, Ala., two cities where Invisible Children stayed on tour.

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The spread of the film on the Internet opened the organization to all kinds of criticism. People online debated the racial politics of the film, the ethics of humanism, and the usefulness of “slacktivism”, the equation of sharing with choice and action.

“The top criticism I have read over the years is an oversimplification of a complex issue,” said Mr. Russell. “To that I would say, ‘I hear you, but to do something viral’ – our goal was to simplify a complex issue – ‘that’s what you have to do.’ In a way it is meant as a criticism, but I saw it as a compliment.”

At the time, the attention the film received became overwhelming for Mr Russell, who was filmed walking naked in his neighborhood, talking obscenely a week after its release. “There are very few examples of people who have been publicly shamed and cast in that white-hot light that doesn’t have any sort of breakdown,” he said.

According to Mr Russell, the footage was sold to TMZ, and #Horny2012 overtook #Kony2012 in the trending hashtag on Twitter after false reports surfaced that he was masturbating in public. What started out as a serious attempt to awaken consciousness became a meme.

But the film clearly struck a chord with audiences, referring to Joanna Berger, a marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and author of “Contagious: Why Things Catch On,” as Steps: Social Currency, Trigger , sentiment, public practical value and story. Professor Berger said that these factors appeal to our psychological make-up and basic human motivations.

Eric Meyerson, former head of partner marketing at YouTube, said that, at the time, “Kony 2012” relied on the emotive qualities of the Internet’s most resonant videos. Its first three minutes include footage of the Arab Spring and a child riding his bike for the first time.

“They were the videos we were trying to promote on YouTube at the time, to present for Webby, videos that would inspire good feelings, that bring people back to a platform,” Mr. Meyerson said. said. He added that in some cases audiences felt that by consuming and sharing content, “they were helping to change the world.”

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When Mr. Meyerson joined Facebook in 2015 to lead its video marketing team, that deep sense of possibility still lingered. But after the introduction of Facebook Live in August, the mood changed, as graphic live-streamed footage began to appear.

“Then we had the rise of fake news, Brexit, the election of Trump,” he said, “and all of a sudden, by the end of 2016, it was ‘social media could change the world for the better’ from ‘Facebook and YouTube and Twitter to democracy. Destroying it.’” The conversation soon followed focused on algorithms, echo chambers, and “post-truth” politics.

“The start of 2010 was incredibly important in transforming our current information environment, and it didn’t get the attention it deserves,” said Mr. Meyerson.

Now, early images of conflict and crisis often come to us via social media, and are informed by the platforms where they are shared. “The advent of digital warfare challenges mainstream media and other elite actors in their capacity to look like war,” said Andrew Hoskins, an interdisciplinary research professor at the University of Glasgow.

“Very interesting to see on Twitter right now,” he said, referring to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has been called the first TikTok war. “The footage that floods our consciousness of conflict,” he said — open-source intelligence, citizen journalism on TikTok — “could revolutionize war, but it might not matter.”

In 2017, the United States and Uganda withdrew a mission to capture Mr. Connie, saying he no longer represented a regional threat. “There has been an 80 percent reduction in atrocities committed by the LRA,” the Archbishop of Western Equatoria State, Samuel Enosa Penney, wrote in an email. (He has lost three siblings in the military.)

Today, Invisible Children is focused entirely on local programs in Central Africa. Social media plays a small role in its strategy.

Mr. Russell has also dialed back his digital presence. “While we now have the media literacy to eliminate things like QAnon principles,” he said, “I can’t help that the Internet still triggers me.”

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