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Apr 20, 2012

Call to Cover the Night, but will Kony fighters be Invisible?

The hype generated by Invisible Children’s 30-minute video proved the power of social media, accumulating over 105 million views. But where are those supporters now, asks Dylan Barber?

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The hype generated by Invisible Children’s 30-minute video proved the power of social media, accumulating over 105 million online views in the plight to bring Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony to justice. But where are those supporters now?

Almost immediately the unprecedented social movement became as infamous as it was famous, coming under furious criticism for over-simplifying a complex issue, misrepresenting data and encouraging cultural paternalism. The public meltdown of Kony 2012 star Jason Russell didn’t help.

The debate for and against “clicktivism” — online activism in the social media age — raged on both sides, dismissed by some as “slacktivism”, where online activism doesn’t translate into real-world activism.

That’s where “Cover the Night” is meant to come in. Those who watched the initial video will remember Russell’s emphatic declaration of a “day of action” — which, it so happens, is today.

According to the campaign, tonight is the night where supporters will converge in major cities all over the world to “make Kony famous” — just in case anyone missed the online campaign. As Russell declares in the initial video:

“All of these efforts will culminate on one day: April 20, when we cover the night. This is the day when we will meet at sundown, and blanket every street in every city until the sun comes up. We will be smart, and we will be thorough. The rest of the world will go to bed Friday night, and wake up to hundreds of thousands of posters demanding justice on every corner.”

So will Cover the Night go ahead like all the hype initially suggested? In Australia, Facebook events for major cities indicate big turnouts — over 19,000 people in Sydney and around 15,000 in Melbourne have clicked “attending”.

Aidan Baron, who co-ordinated one Facebook event in Sydney, told Crikey he didn’t expect everyone on the Facebook events to turn up, but still expected “a number of thousands”.

“The plan for tonight is simple — get as many people as possible and create awareness by plastering the entire Sydney CBD, like people will be doing all over the world,” he said.

He stressed the event was about each individual: “This event is unique, in that there are no true organisers. I don’t consider myself an organiser, we’re just facilitators of a massive grassroots organisation.

“I’m not supportive of vandalism or destruction of property. We want to stress that people are coming as individuals, we’re not one body, so individual people should be respectful of public and private property. This is a positive movement, so we’re relying on people to be conscious of their individual actions to help portray this in a positive light.”

But after nearly two months have people moved on? Those who purchased the “action kit” may have posters handy, and there will still be a core support base, but the movement seems to have lost momentum in recent weeks. The Guardian recently questioned whether Kony 2012 was a missed chance.

Even worse for the campaign, police have warned those involved that the distribution of posters could land them in hot water. A spokesman for Police Victoria told Crikey: “The safe streets taskforce will be out and about, and we’ll monitor events and act accordingly … If an offence is detected then they will be dealt with accordingly, so those involved should be mindful of that.”

Elle Hanrahan, an organiser for a Brisbane event, told ABC radio this morning they were discouraging people from putting posters everywhere. Instead, they are complying with the local council, who have approved a temporary 30-metre wall in Brisbane Square that will sport posters and messages of support for the Kony 2012 campaign.

There can be no denying Kony 2012 did more for awareness of Kony than any other previous coverage — and there have been tangible results. The US Congress has signed two resolutions pledging support for the capture of Kony, and 5000 troops were pledged by the African Union to target Kony’s Lord Resistance Army.

At the time of Crikey’s deadline it’s still late on Thursday evening in most of America, so the scope of the American turnout remains to be seen. But if we take Twitter as a sign of what is to come, it doesn’t look good. The Kony related hashtags #kony2012, #coverthenight and #makekonyfamous are nowhere to be seen in the biggest trending topics, according to online twitter trend aggregator Twee.co.

Ironically, April 20 does make it into the list of top trending topics for the past week, but for a reason Invisible Children won’t be pleased about. At the time of Crikey’s deadline the topic “tomorrow is 420” was among the “hottest” Twitter topics, referring to the day of celebration of cannabis culture — 4/20 or April 20 in American date notation.

It seems American tweeps are more excited about marijuana than Kony 2012.

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