On March 5, 2012, Invisible Children uploaded “Kony 2012” to YouTube with the hopes of spreading word about the crimes of Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony. Their goal all along was to go viral, but nobody could’ve predicted the extreme heights of their success.
“Kony 2012” subsequently became the fastest growing video of all time, racking up over 100 million views and in just six days. Even more were reached through social media platforms like Twitter, where the hashtag #Kony2012 instantly became ubiquitous.
The “Kony 2012” video is an obvious product of numerous properties identified by Jenkins and company in Chapter 5 of Spreadable Media.First, it’s a digital product, so it’s at once readily available, portable, and reusable. All of these characteristics contribute to its immense ease of share.
Second, some of the principles they laid out regarding shared fantasies can be traced to “Kony 2012.” For example, the video is an embodiment of the acceptance of mutual obligations. When somebody sees or hears about the video and its cause, they feel responsible for furthering its message. This is also in line with wanting to operate within familiar social patterns; when a video generates this much buzz, getting involved becomes the norm. Both of these contribute to its overarching theme of community– one of the central tenants of shared fantasies.
Additionally, “Kony 2012” displays characteristics of unfinished content. Investigative research was conducted, explanatory essays were written, and further documentaries were produced in the aftermath of the YouTube video. These following producers saw the video and its content as an unfinished message and took action to help round out the story.
Perhaps “Kony 2012″‘s most relevant spreadability aspect was the timeliness of its controversy. At the time of its publication, African conflicts were a nonstop topic of media discussion. To name just a few, the Egyptian political conflict was in full swing, the Sudanese and Libyan civil wars were imminent, and Somalian pirate attacks were frequent. The world’s people were already sympathizing with African conflicts. So, when the video started to educate viewers on this long-lasting Ugandan feud, the public was ready to embrace its controversy. The fact that “Kony 2012” embodies so many of Jenkins’ ideas– and embodies them so profoundly– makes it a good example of his ideas.
While “Kony 2012″doesn’t display evidence of Jenkins’ other listed factors, additional spreadability factors relating to it can be found elsewhere. TINT– a consulting firm that specializes in social media– posted an article on their page that lists several commonalities of viral content. Some that relate to “Kony 2012” are listed below:
- Sentimentality– viewers are likely to empathize with its emotional message
- Informativity– the video educates viewers on a previously unknown topic
- Researched content– viewers respect the work put into making the video and want to see its conclusion
- Video– its informative yet entertaining at once and requires little work from viewers
Each one of these characteristics contribute directly to how likely viewers are to share.
Social media marketing firm Synecore posted a similar article on their site, but with different characteristics. Still more unique ones can be related to “Kony 2012.” The first is that it’s unbelievable– viewers are abhorred at the jaw-dropping acts of Kony and his rebel army. Next, it agrees with our worldview. People like sharing things that make them feel good about themselves. Is there a better example of this than an activism video? Lastly, it’s taboo. Mainstream media strayed away from the Kony conflict for decades. The fact that a then-small charity group started the movement made it that much more intriguing.
- Invisible Children (2012). Kony 2012. Retrieved from http://invisiblechildren.com/kony-2012/
- Jenkins, H., Ford, S., Green, J., & JSTOR books. (2013). Spreadable media: Creating value and meaning in a networked culture. New York: New York University Press. Retrieved from https://ay15.moodle.umn.edu/pluginfile.php/1249088/mod_resource/content/1/Spreadable%20media%20chap5.pdf
- Wikipedia (2o16). List of conflicts in Africa. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_conflicts_in_Africa
- Unknown author (2013). 11 types of viral content that spread on the internet. TINT. Retrieved from http://www.tintup.com/blog/11-types-of-viral-content-that-spread-on-the-internet/
- Horton, C. (2013). Social media marketing 101: What makes content go viral? Marketing Technology for Growth. Retrieved from http://engage.synecoretech.com/marketing-technology-for-growth/bid/184524/Social-Media-Marketing-101-What-Makes-Content-Go-Viral