Kony 2012 campaign sparks conversation and controversy

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX -- Forty-eight hours ago many people had never heard of Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony. Now, his name is at the fingertips of millions worldwide after a campaign and documentary aimed at capturing Kony went viral.

The 28-minute video was created by filmmaker Jason Russell of the organization Invisible Children and as of Thursday night had been viewed more than 46 million times on YouTube.

Sites like Twitter and Facebook were abuzz with comments and posts about the Kony 2012.

It tells the story of Kony's decades of brutality against children. He is the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda. The International Criminal Courts say he has abducted, raped, mutilated and killed tens of thousands of children.

"I have never seen anything go this viral, this fast, with this kind of scope and generate this much discussion ever," said Jeff Moriarty, a Valley consultant who specializes in social media.

Among those taking part in the discussion are people who know what it's like to fear Kony firsthand.

Harriet and Linus Mbanza are refugees from Uganda who recently settled in Peoria.

"Uganda has lost so many children," Linus said. "When I went online I saw this and I was like, this is great, this is so great."

The documentary urges people to donate "a few dollars a month" to the nonprofit and buy "kits" with posters and other materials to help spread the word about Kony.

An international day of action is planned for April 20 and supporters are encouraged to hang posters of Kony in their cities.

The prolific outpouring of support for the campaign and the group Invisible Children has come with controversy and backlash.

Shortly after the movie went viral, other websites went up devoted to criticizing Invisible Children for how its leaders sell merchandise and spend their proceeds and for oversimplifying the conflict of Uganda.

Invisible Children responded to criticisms of how their money is spent by creating their own counter-site.

The Mbanzas are not interested in the controversy surrounding the group's finances and say they're just glad someone is talking about Kony.

"I don't care if he's selling T-shirts or doing whatever he does, but what is most important is he's trying to be a voice for those kids," Linus said.

Whether you support the cause or not, experts say it is a remarkable example of the power of social media.

"It's incredible how many people are coming together, having passionate discussions about something a lot of us didn't know about 48 hours ago," Moriarty said.

He questions whether any action will come of all the talk and said "Kony 2012" could be a prime example of what he calls "Slacktivism."

"Slacktivism, yes, the idea of sharing and promoting and you get all worked up in a concept but you don't actually invest and take action," he said.