March 17, 2012 by Colin Kelly
The man behind the social media phenomenon “Kony 2012″ is in hospital.
The charity he works for has issued a statement.
If I’d been advising the charity’s CEO Ben Keesey last night I’d have told him not to use the “exhaustion, dehydration and malnutrition” line. It’s inviting ridicule when the mainstream media are reporting this.
I’d have ben tempted not to mention Russell at all. He’s become the story and he has to go.
The Kony video racked up 80 million YouTube views because it communicated a simple, powerful message that was difficult to argue with.
In the last few days, the message has become far more complicated.
Consider the way Russell has been described. He’s gone from being “a film maker” in the early coverage to “an evangelical Christian”. People like film makers if they make good films. It’s a very safe term to use. “Evangelical Christian” makes some people feel uncomfortable and gradually starts to undermine the message of the film.
We’ve started to talk about the character of the person who made it. The coverage of the last 24 hours describes Jason Russell is even more unhelpful terms, which further detract from the original message.
The statement from Keesey puts even more of the spotlight on Russell and less on Kony – who he doesn’t mention at all. That’s a massive wasted opportunity. Keesey’s words mean the latest chapter in the story is entirely about Russell.
Of course, any boss has a duty of care towards staff but by wording his statement as he did Keesey has made discussion of Russell’s personality “official”, ensuring that for the next few days there will be continued coverage of Russell’s situation. And when he returns to health, which I hope is soon there’s going to be a media scrum to get an interview with him. It’s as though Keesey thinks by saying little, he can shut the story down. No chance. He has to put Russell aside and use this opportunity to control the message.
But the mistakes began before the video was even placed on YouTube.
In my opinion Invisible Children could have prepared better. They created a compelling piece of social media. But did they have a strategy in place to deal with the consequences of something going viral? 80 million views in 2 weeks – that’s a hell of a lot of attention on a pretty small organisation.
Were they prepared for the scrutiny that comes with that? The questions about their finances and personnel? They should have been better prepared and instead of responding to people saying they were “a scam” could have been open and transparent about who they were FIRST.
Why did they allow Russell to give interviews? They were very clear that their sole aim was the sharing of the video and to make KONY famous. They also made themselves and Jason Russell famous. And perhaps even infamous. My advice to them during the initial hype about the film would have been to refuse ALL interview requests and tell media outlets simply to play a section of the film. Publish complete and transparent information about themselves and their financial records on their website so anyone who wants to find out more can.
In private, all that matters is Jason Russell’s health and I hope he’s OK.
But in public – assuming this charity is serious about its aims regarding Kony – then all that matters is the message and it cannot become tainted or complicated.
So had I been advising Ben Keesey last night I’d have suggested he said something like this…
- Thank everyone who’s watched and shared the Kony 2012 video
- Point out that 80 million views represents less than 10% of the number of people on Facebook so there’s still a huge job to do
- Remind us what Kony has done and why he should be stopped
- Thank everyone who’s donated money – pledge to spend it in a way that makes a positive difference to the world and explain that full details of how that money is spent will be available on a regularly updated section of the website
- Finish by stating that as recent media coverage has made clear, the member of the team who made the film is currently in hospital and that you wish him a full recovery and hope he’s able to re-join the team at some point in the future.
Privately, brief news editors that Russell has stood down in order to concentrate on his health and suggest that in the grand scheme of things, forcing children to fight in a war is a rather more serious offence than finding it difficult to cope with a sudden stressful situation. And ask those same news editors why a small charity was able to create a piece of content about an evil man that 80 million people responded to while their news organisations didn’t. Suggest that if the Kony 2012 phenomenon has taught us anything it’s that the mainstream media is becoming irrelevant and that they might wish to focus on sorting this out than devoting further coverage to one man’s health issues.