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KONY2012’s ‘Cover The Night’ One Year Later: Remember Joseph Kony?

20 Apr

One year ago today thousands of activists, most quite young, plastered America with posters and the contents of ready made ‘action kits’ in solidarity with an organization called Invisible Children….

If you know what I’m talking about right now, great.  If you do not you are helping to prove one of the points I am trying to make.

The ‘Story’

IC (Invisible Children) makes a thirty minute ‘humanitarian’ film about warlord Joseph Kony and how we (the US military) need to catch him–and goes on to discuss how ‘we the people’ can make that happen…

The video goes ABSOLUTELY VIRAL like nothing of it’s type had before or has since…getting over 200,000,000 views in just a few weeks (perspective: that is a little less than two thirds of America watching this youtube/vimeo video at least once).  So, some crazy things happen with IC (I do not want to get into the politics of NGO’s or the particulars of that organization), but the video becomes a ‘cause célèbre’ of sorts, particularly high school aged youth.  The whole thing culminates in an advocacy campaign called ‘Cover the Night’. CtN was then intended to be the start of a larger ‘movement’ campaign aimed at Congress, who, it was hoped, would eventually be pressured by concerned constituents (letter writing, legislative/judicial routes, etc.) to send American soldiers to go hunt him down (we already had advisors at the team, but we are talking ground troops)….


The Idea (Dust?)Bin

Perhaps not so slowly, most people seem to have forgotten about the entire endeavor.  Even when I get into detail it’s tough to coax it from people’s memories, only 365 days after the event that was sort of the starting point for my whole thesis.  The video was the  last most people ever heard of any of it while others tagged along a bit longer, but it honestly is almost like it never happened.

The recent trend to display signs of solidarity while the Supreme Court was deciding on gay marriage comes to mind as something similar…Facebook was awash with red and pink for three days, could be seen speckled about various profile pictures a week later, and shortly after that remained largely only for the LBGTQ community and particularly committed Allies.  It is amazing (and curious), some the world events that shake us and we never forget, while others of arguably similar or even more importance pass through the mind and current events and wind up (to use a quote from Leon Trotsky) in “the dustbin of history”.

This all, makes me at least, a stronger believer that the leap from advocacy to activism is one that very few people take, and that our collective memory is quite short, considering the unparalleled success of intitial IC campaign. The iconic campaign posters are still found in the odd alley (I saw one last month that had managed to survive the brutal New England winter), occasionally you see a sticker on a lamp post.  It also says a few things about social movements structurally, and I’ll get to that in a moment.

A Few Fundamentals

In order to understand the fate of this particular movement one must first break down the idea of a ‘social movement’.

Basically, it can be argued that social movements are groups of people united by a similar cause that has social roots and can (theoretically) be resolved, reversed, slowed down, etc. using social means. The overarching goal of social movements and advocacy work is, essentially, to change the status quo.  This change/goal-oriented group behavior is what allows groups like the Black Panthers, Westboro Baptist Church, The (post-Soviet) Communist Party, and Doctors Without Borders to be  classified in the same broad group despite the huge differences between them.

However, all social movements are not the same.  Most take one one of two forms(or a mix of both, in organizations such as the union UNITE HERE!)

First, there can be a direct challenge to the system, government, institution etc. that people wish to see change.  Often their tactics work from outside of the functioning sociopolitical realm (I would characterize this realm as an institutionalized version of Mills’ Power Elite) and therefore they often find themselves far from the ‘appropriate channels’ to get things done in contemporary America.  The initial Occupy Wall Street movement is a great example of this.

Invisible Children, and it’s KONY2012 campaign are of the latter kind.  Most NGO’s and in fact most activists can be put into this category.  These are the groups and individuals that work ‘inside the system’–lobbying, starting petitions, getting ideas turned into bills that make it to the floor of the Senate and House chambers and often using institutional leverage to create impact.  The Human Rights Campaign, the NRA, and the Audubon Society represent good examples of this type of movement towards change.

I wonder how baking cookies to donate to breast cancer research would fit into this?  I suppose it doesn’t really, and therefore this needs flushed out quite a bit and perhaps qualified the politicized nature of the things I am looking at.

(Please do not get me wrong, I am not trying to say that outside pressure is not an effective means of social progress, though one could argue that the NRA is fairing much better than OWS at the moment.  In fact I would argue that in the ‘big picture’ outside pressure is by far the more important of the two types of activism.  I also tend to think of the world in terms of grandiose systems, so to me politics are usually subservient to other forces.)  This also has a great deal to do with traditional organizational models and resource mobilization…but that is another matter for another time.

So Where Is Kony and Why Does It Matter?

Well, they always say ‘the proof is in the pudding’.

KONY2012 was an incredible moment for organized advocacy…and despite going out with a sputter… recent events have shown that it may have been a partial success after all.Several weeks ago the Central African Republic suspended it’s manhunt for Kony.  The next day the United States issued a declaration putting a $5,000,000 bounty out on him. But bear in mind that it is the US that oversaw the forces pulling out…bittersweet?  Here is a quick article on the recent developments.

As an organization working within the pluralistic  model (i.e. inside the system–I just don’t feel like saying that over and over), it showed how quickly movements of the type can be influential once they have gained some real internal or external clout like the current climate for the marriage equality which has been decades in the making.

After a years worth of reflection, this series of events has turned out to be a great case study in virtual advocacy…and it gives this author some confidence that there is a future for others like it.

OH… and if you were wondering where to find Kony and earn a quick five mil, you can probably find him somewhere in the CAR, South Sudan, or the DRC…but honestly nobody really has any idea.

I tricked you! Ha.

It took ten years to track down Osama Bin Laden…and one can only imagine how much more intense that search was by those in power.

Sorry it’s been so long.  Take care y’all.


Analysis: Twitter followers after thirty days and physical change via the virtual world

21 Feb


Today marks the one month anniversary of my first Twitter follower for an account I’ve crated specifically as a part of this ongoing project, and it has been quite the month.  In thirty days I have posted 339 tweets (96% retweets), and begun to follow just over 1700 accounts–based mostly in politics, news, and non profit organizations/government institutions.  286 people and organizations have decided to follow me (with ~88% retention rate).  This morning I decided to do a loose analysis of these followers based upon keywords in their twitter heading/summary/tagline/whateveryoueanttocallit.  The results are as follows (I allowed a given follower to be placed into up to three categories of equal relevance.  Essentially, one could argue that my categories are arbitrary, and without set criteria my analysis is ACADEMICALLY unsound, but it still gives one for a good feel for who has been attracted to my account, presumably based on who I follow and my tagline which reads:

“Taking the info in and spewing it back out. Masters Thesis@Dartmouth in #globalization #sustainability and #labor. Saving the world one article at a time.”

BREAKDOWN: (high to low)

Non profit organizations/Charities: 29


Networking/Social Media: 26

Author/ Journalist: 25

Advertising: 21

News (general): 20

Online collective action: 20

‘Liberal’: 17

Art/Music: 14

Social movements: 14

Labor/Unions: 13

‘Blogger’: 13


‘Radical’: 11

‘Conservative’: 11

Animal Rights: 11

Academic journals: 11

History: 10

Social/Political policy: 9

Sustainability/Environmentalism: 9

‘Tech’: 9

News (international): 9

Massachusetts: 9

‘Occupy’: 8

Government: 8

Children’s rights: 8

Health/Healthcare (general): 7

Think Tank: 7

100,000+ followers: 7

‘Entrepreneur’: 7

Hunger/Food: 7

Christianity: 6

Parks/Conservation: 5

Education/Special ed: 5

Voting: 5

Television/Radio personalities: 4

Cities: 4

Photography: 4

Academia: 4

Women’s rights: 4

Vermont: 4

Government officials/Politicians: 4

Economics (Finance/Trading): 3

Mental Health: 3

Conventional energy: 3

Student: 3

Insurance (general): 3

‘SEO’: 3

Homelessness: 2

Race: 2

Crowdsourcing: 2

Agriculture: 2

Co-operatives: 2

Veterans: 2

Law: 2

Animal rights: 2

Translator: 1

Water rights: 1

Indigenous rights: 1

Hinduism: 1

Buddhism: 1

1,000,000+  followers: 1

Total categories: 56

Total categorizations: 487 (of 286 followers)


Unfortunately, this bit is all I have time for today.  This weekend I will post again discussing the SIGNIFICANCE of these ‘findings’ as well as some other bits and pieces that have been on my mind in recent days.

ADDENDUM: I forgot to include the category ‘anonymous’, which had 3 references.

Follow Me!

20 Jan

This past week, while I was down with the flu, I decided to finally get serious with Twitter (@julianpfenn) and Reddit (sharewhatyagot).  Why did it take a guy writing a blog on new media nine months to do so?  Beats me, but I quickly realized everything I had been missing out on.

For the longest time I’ve been that guy that hates Twitter, the main reason being that I’m incredibly long winded and I didn’t see how I could effectively use something that only allows tiny little itty bitty posts. Plus, with all of my other outlets for disseminating information, why should I bother with another? At the same time I’d never even considered the power and potential of being able to ‘follow’ nearly anyone I want.  Instead of reading a feed for a few minutes I would hop around from site to site for an hour or two reading up on fresh news, various movement and org updates, and research articles.  I failed to recognize how great it is to have a centralized source for decentralized information!  Sure, I can read updates for the NYTimes and other ‘traditional’ media, but just above that on my feed I can read the same stories from other sources like Democracy Now!, various Occupy groups, and Socialist Worker–allowing me to critically examine and see the ways in which the mainstream media (as well as alt media) frames each of the issues it tackles.  It’s only been a few days, and I only have a few followers, but of them I can include several social media strategy/marketing companies, several Occupy groups (@OWSupdate, @Occupybarcelona), and some other non-profs dealing with a range of issues.  How they found me and why they decided to follow me?  No idea.  The groups, on average, only follow about 4,000 other ‘tweeters(?)’, but somehow managed to come across me within a day or two of beginning to actually use the site.  I’m sure none of this is new to others who use Twitter, but for me it has been quite the interesting wake-up call and a realization that I need to not only read about and research (from academic journals) new media and movements, but become actively involved in these communities if I hope to grasp the enormity of what they mean and what they are capable of.

Reddit is totally new to me.  I’ve known about it for a year or two now, but again did not seem to see the use of it until I was bed-ridden for the past few days.  Yesterday, though, I got a taste of how to make it work for me in terms of both getting my voice heard and, in a sense, ‘feeling the pulse’ of the various communities.  I put up a post in the ‘todayilearned’ subreddit and in six hours saw it produce over 100 comments, 220 up votes, and 50 down votes.  I was surprised to say the least.  Clearly, then, I had touched on something that people had on their minds–and that  I think is the site’s greatest attribute.  After a casual scroll through it’s various submissions one can surmise two important things.  First, there is visible evidence of which issues people are interested in and what has slipped from our minds, and second it says a great deal about the types of folks that take advantage of all that the site has to offer (i.e. a general sense of the demographics of various communities).  Both of these are interesting, and by tracking certain variables over time, I feel it may offer even more insight into trending issues (and their correlation to exposure by traditional media), and the various frameworks from which people reach their opinions on issues of politics, economics, etc. (What is the process that leads a Tea Party conservative and a Socialist to opposite conclusions on an issue and what are they citing as evidence for their position–what ideologies are prevalent?  How is their ‘evidence’ framed?  How often do people rely on personal experience, sarcasm, emotion etc. to make their point as compared to a rational approach based an said ‘evidence’? Does ‘status’ within a given community or Reddit in general affect the power of certain persons in influencing others compared to ‘new’ or ‘casual’ users?)  I feel that there is much that can be learned from a solid longitudinal analysis of selected groups or even the Reddit homepage, so I’m going take a stab at that once I find a proper methodological approach.

To sum up–I’ve expanded my primary and experiential research, and, more importantly, I want YOU to follow me on Twitter @julianpfenn so that it can be a richer and more informative experience for me, and possibly a good source for alt news for you!

Take care y’all.  It’s time to watch some hockey.

Demographics of This Site (and other various and sundry thoughts of the day), 19 April

19 Apr Map of Countries This Blog Has Been To

As of 3PM today I have had 714 visits to my blog from the countries shown above, roughly one quarter of the nations recognized by the UN.  Here is how some of that breaks down:

United States 512
United Kingdom 45
Canada 41
Australia 11
Switzerland 10
Netherlands 8
Mexico 7
Turkey 6
Japan 5
Belgium 5
Portugal 4
Ireland 4
Sweden 4
Hong Kong* 3
Singapore* 3
Denmark 3
France 3
India 2
Finland 2
Lebanon 2
Israel 2
Spain 2
Brazil 2
Romania 2
Argentina 2
Norway 2
Ecuador 1
China 1
Thailand 1
Peru 1
Puerto Rico* 1
New Zealand 1
Philippines 1
Panama 1
Pakistan 1
Honduras 1
Latvia 1
South Africa 1
Austria 1
Egypt 1
Morocco 1
Chile 1
Poland 1
Costa Rica 1

Of the total 714, seventy two percent were American, meaning twenty eight percent came from abroad.

However, if you create a subset for the “Anglo” countries (US, UK, AU, CA–which happen to be the top four on the list), we find that it makes up for eighty five percent of traffic, leaving only fifteen percent (or 105 visits) ‘foreign’ in the broader sense.  Still I am learning a great deal about the inner workings of social media and effective methods for disseminating information.  I haven’t posted much about actual events yet, as I am still waiting a bit to see how things shake out in the next thirty days or so.  I will, however, discuss ‘Cover the Night’ and the facts and opinions that derive from it.

I will also start discussing the geopolitical history and situation in Central Africa with detail, in order to understand exactly what may or may not be going on and who the beneficiaries are.

Tomorrow is ‘Cover the Night’!  Even if you didn’t buy an ‘action kit’ (which infuriates me…something for a later rant)–make a poster, picket for an hour, get attention–do something!  Prove that when 100 million people watch a video about humanitarian justice and corruption they will make some sort of effort to voice their concerns!!!