Opinion – Why Did Kony 2012 Fail?

By Dylan Smith

In the early stages of its launch, Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 project seemed well-intended and well-marketed. It was a project of the digital age that took advantage of digital media and promotion through social media outlets. A story about suffering children in Uganda being stolen from their homes in the middle of the night and forced to join a renegade children’s army touched the hearts of many and the views on the video continued to grow and grow. The problems with the campaign began to show when investigations into how the organization works produced results that painted a different image than the glossy, all-accepting one originally shown. Invisible Children and Kony 2012 started to look less like a mission about saving children and more of a plan to fund the Ugandan government and anti-LGBT bills that aimed to rid the country of homosexual citizens through genocide.

The initial problems within the Kony 2012 campaign began to show when many people viewing the video realized that it aimed to complete a mission that was impossible to do. Many Ugandan citizens and Northern Africans who saw the video were confused, as they believed that Joseph Kony has not been seen in Uganda for over five years. Criticisms of the members and heads of Invisible Children also showed connections to more controversial aspects of the Ugandan government, like that of the Anti-Homosexual Bill proposed by Julius Oyet and David Bahat, and to conservative Christian groups who have been vocal players in the discrimination of the LGBT community. Even Jason Russel, the co-founder of the Invisible Children has been criticized for the using his son in the video as a marketing tool and for his mental breakdown that caused him to fly into a naked violent rage in public.

Despite the controversy, Invisible Children were able to launch their campaign off the support of many social issue leaders. Even many celebrities who are avid supporters of the LGBT community donated to the Kony 2012 campaign, including Oprah Winfrey, who donated money to the organization after the video went viral, according to The Huffington Post.  And  Winfrey may have played a hand in making the video go viral.

“A young woman from Australia with 29 Twitter “followers” tweeted to Oprah about the film,” reports MSNBC’s Technology. “The mega-star, with 9.6 million followers of her own, responded to the tweet supportively, then continued to tweet about it. Other celebrities, the Biebers and Kardashians, each with their own private army of devotees, joined in. By the end of that day, “Kony 2012” had 9.6 million YouTube views.”

The Huffington Post found its data on AlterNet, an online news source who claims to offer an alternative perspective at the world.  The editors of AlterNet were the ones to originally dig into Invisible Children’s tax forms. It was with that investigation that the donations from The National Christian Fund and other fundamentalist organizations were uncovered, many of whom cite fighting homosexuality as one of its main missions.

“The NCF, which counts billionaire, controversial Rick Santorum-backer Foster Friess among its donors, funds nonprofits that advance its agenda which, as stated on the NCF website, is to enable followers of Christ to give wisely to advance His Kingdom,” states AlterNet.

Of course, as many have argued, with Invisible Children having to release a statement claiming themselves as pro-LGBT and accepting of all people, money is money and no one is going to turn down a donation. It could also be mere coincidence that an organization fighting against the LGBT donated to Invisible Children, but when more of IC’s financial records are explored, the organization seems like a hot commodity that many conservative and anti-LGBT organizations have chosen to donate to.

“But Invisible Children’s first yearly report, from 2006, gives special thanks to the Caster Family Foundation and IC’s 2007 report is more specific, thanking Terry and Barbara Caster,” according to a March 15th, 2008, story by The San Diego Union Tribune. “In the lead up to the 2008 election, the California-based Caster family was identified as one of the biggest financial backers of the push for California’s anti-same sex marriage Proposition 8.”

The reason why a project like Kony 2012 could be viewed as a insignifcant could be seen in their failed campaign Paint The Night, where they encouraged all their supporters to put up fliers purchased from the organization on the night of April 20th..  Like previously stated, the fact that Paint The Night also falls on what is known as The Day of Silence – a day meant to show support to LGBT teenagers who have been bullied – could also be mere coincidence. Kony 2012 could have failed for many  others reasons, like how short-lived many campaigns are in a now-digital world, or it could have failed due to the problems with Joseph Kony no longer even being in Uganda. It also could have failed due to the good intentions of trying to help children, but by only also supporting a government that proposes laws that deem homosexuals as a danger to Uganda and encourages the elimination of gay and lesbian Ugandans through death or life imprisonment.



  1. As someone who has previously worked for Invisible Children, has supported them for several years, and identifies with the LGBT community, I take issue with your analysis.

    Invisible Children does not fund the Ugandan government or their army, for starters. Invisible Children has been decidedly against the “Kill the Gays” bill, as it has been called, for years. When I worked with them in 2010, the question came up on several occasions, and we were told not to speak in support of the bill, but to affirm our commitment that life is valuable, and that people should not be killed for being gay.

    Has the organization received donations from people who are anti-LGBT? It definitely seems so. But as you mentioned, they have also received large amounts of money from pro-LGBT people. Stopping Joseph Kony has been Invisible Children’s priority, and it’s something that many people have come together on, regardless of their stance of gay rights, LGBT persons, religion, politics, etc.

    As to the Cover the Night/Day of Silence events both being on April 20th, I can stand and testify first hand that they don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I participated in both during the day, as did many others.

    If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to check this out: http://blog.invisiblechildren.com/2012/04/09/justice-for-some-is-not-justice-for-all/

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