The Invisible Children Are Not So Invisible

In 2004 the nonprofit organization Invisible Children was founded, and released their first documentary. For those of you who don’t know, their goal is to stop the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) conflicts happening in Uganda by making awareness videos, creating rehabilitation centers and traveling around the country to spread the word. Almost two years ago they created a video, “Kony 2012,” which was a 30-minute documentary about Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony. According to Samantha Grossman from TIME NewsFeed, “This video was viewed more than 100 million times in just under a week, making it the most viral video in history.” Visible Measures is an analytics company that researched the short film and has found that it is now on YouTube translated into multiple languages such as Spanish, Italian, French and Chinese. The Cross-cultural adaption theory explains how people may adjust to new information in an environment, which in this case are the LRA conflicts. By watching and sharing this video on YouTube people have integrated themselves in this culture just by participating.

You may be wondering how one video could become viral so quickly. The answer is that the organization had already been extremely active on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook with thousands of followers. The idea was to share the video and have people pass it onto friends and family until everyone on the internet had seen it. This is an example of grassroots marketing, where you target your efforts to a small group and hope the group will spread your message to a much larger audience. The organization’s efforts were successful since celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Justin Bieber found these videos and posted them on their own profiles, encouraging millions more to view it.

Bieber retweeted an Invisible Children message and then looped the link to the video to his 18 million-plus followers several times, saying, “it is time to make him known. Im calling on ALL MY FANS, FRIENDS, and FAMILY to come together and #STOPKONY.”

Oprah referenced Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, saying, “Thanks tweeps for sending me info about ending #LRAviolence. I am aware. Have supported with $’s and voice and will not stop. #KONY2012.”




Even after all of the positive feedback, there are still many that believe this video was misleading propaganda. Jee from J Student Reporters states, “The Invisible Children have been criticized for over dramatizing and oversimplifying this issue, which is a past problem in Uganda.” The article also goes on to talk about how the Ugandan government believes the LRA is no longer active because of expulsion by the Ugandan Peoples Defense Forces in mid-2006. After reading this information I started to wonder why an organization with so much power would want to bring back an old issue. I do believe that the Invisible Children have stuck with their mission through all the negative comments about what they are fighting for, so there must be a good reason for it.

Another problem people seem to have with the organization is that the money they receive does not all go to Uganda, but to make films just like this one. Cathy Curran from CBS states, “According to their financial statements, 20% is spent on management expenses and overhead. Last year $1.7 million were spent on travel, $3. 8 million were used for the film, advocacy and spreading their message and $3.3 million went to programs in Central Africa.” Even though every cent has not directly gone to Uganda, it is still being spent to help make people more aware of the situations there.

The Kony video was an eye opener for everyone, and encouraged people to care about an issue that was not even heard of before it. Without this video not only would people not know about the problems in Uganda, past or present, but there would be $3.3 million less going towards programs in Africa. They are also using a smart tactic by making their followers their own PR people. This makes them feel more involved in the company and really feel like they’re making a difference.

-Ashley Creps, Rachel Edwards, Chad Darrah, Dylan Fowler, and Ryan Nagy

11 thoughts on “The Invisible Children Are Not So Invisible

  1. I agree that their strategy to use their followers as PR is very smart. Making the people feel involved while also spreading their message simultaneously is brilliant. I did not know that the LRA was inactive and weakened though. This shifts my attitude towards Invisible Children. I do not know exactly what to think anymore, but it makes me curious to what their true motives are.

  2. I think the grassroots marketing style is very effective and an interesting concept. It saves a company time and money by allowing their followers to share information instead of having to pay for advertising or spent time trying to find ways to reach a larger population. Social media has allowed so much to be shared globally in a very fast and effective way. By allowing followers to share with others, people are able decide what they think is important and make a difference in their own way.

  3. I’ve always found this topic so interesting, and I actually wrote a research paper on it last semester. I believe that the “Kony 2012” documentary was created and displayed with good intentions. However, there were many flaws in the Invisible Children’s movement.
    There were many things exhibited in the documentary that were not actually factual. Also, what I found to be most interesting was that the majority of the Ugandan people were not appreciative of this movie, but horrified. The LRA was/is something that they have faced and has played a huge impact on their lives. These people hate Joseph Kony, and are unhappy that the Kony 2012 movement seeks to make this man famous. They would rather rid him of their mind and lives all together.
    All in all, I do think that it was with food intentions and motives that this movement took place. But, I think that the Invisible Children organization need be more careful before releasing these sorts of things. Also, I know that a large portion of their income goes towards their production and travel costs that aid them with “spreading their message,” but I think more of their profits should go directly to the actual cause.

    • Taylor, I am glad to see that you have done further research on this video as well. Most people do not think to question nonprofits and their ethics. In this case, researchers found many facts to be false in the film. Weather or not the organization did this with good intentions no one knows, but looking at the statistics where the money is going it does not seem that way. I agree that the organization should have made sure that Uganda was okay with making Kony’s name and face ‘famous.’ By not doing this, they ended up hurting the people they are supposedly trying to help.

  4. I really enjoyed your post. You did a wonderful job of showing how the Kony Campaign had both a very positive and very negative response. Representatives from Invisible Children came and spoke at the college I attended last year. They explained to us how Kony and his army were still strong and were killing and kidnapping children every single day. I completely believed everything the representatives told me and I even cried during a video they showed the audience. At the end of the presentation, I went to their booth and I bought a package of shirts, stickers and posters to support their campaign against the LRA. However, later that same year women from Uganda came to our campus and spoke against the Invisible Children organization and their campaign against Kony. The women explained that Kony and his army had been diminished and insignificant for many years now and that Invisible Children was asking for support in order to take people’s money and use it for their own benefit. I am still confused by the whole situation and I am not really sure what is true anymore. This firsthand experience definitely caused me to do more research on an organization or a campaign before I give them money or am willing to support their cause.

    • Kate, I am happy to hear that you have already done research on this organization. It is always good to be aware that you are being advertised to. In this case it was the Invisible Children going around the country persuading students to buy their merchandise, and making them think they were donating money straight to Uganda. I had not heard that women were going around to these same schools telling people not to support them, so thank you for sharing that! I am not sure if ‘spreading the word’ is good enough to give money to, but some people obviously think it is since they are still around and making videos.

  5. Whenever people set out to do right, it always seems like there is someone else setting out to make a profit. Although the Kony issue was a large problem at one point, it seems as if though it has subsided and Invisible Children has decided to make a business off of old news. Their hearts may have been in the right place at first; but after reading about their allocation of funds towards travel expenses and film productions, it makes me think twice about where their hearts are now. Personally, if the issue has truly subsided, I would like to see the organization move onto another project that needs the world’s attention and help.

  6. I was glad to see these statistics incorporated into the post. I had heard about Stop Kony when the video went viral, and was always so interested to find out why exactly it got so big. Horrible things have been going on overseas for a while now, and while Stop Kony certainly raised legitimate concerns, I found it interesting this campaign was so successful while other similar concerns were ignored. Perhaps the grassroots approach is the key to becoming “viral”. Either way, I think the numbers you included were fairly reasonable. Obviously, every non-profit is going to have their overhead costs. While it’s nice to think 100% could go to the efforts, that’s hardly practical.

  7. Personally, I never really watched the “Kony” video or better yet, knew what was going on. Reading this article definitely shined a light on a social revolution that I was not fully informed about. I think the most interesting concept of this article is the facts about the money not being used properly and how the LRA is not even active any longer. Also, great point in identifying that the followers of this revolution were basically made Public Relations people in that they were spreading the word. This post literally sent me back to the time when this was a big deal. I remember people walking around with shirts, fliers, stickers, buttons, everything! People on campus even painted the rock. I was unaware that this was such a big deal and what it even stood for. Your information made me want to further investigate this issue and also watch the video, which I never had the audacity to do before. Thanks so much for bringing this issue back up and informing me about all of the it!

    -Morganne McIntyre

  8. I’m always interested to hear people’s opinions on the whole Kony 2012 debacle. It was incredible seeing the immense support followed by an almost immediate backlash of trends. It seemed like one day I was being pressured to watch the video and spend money so that I could help some kids being forced to do awful things, and the next day I was criticized for believing it and supporting a fraudulent cause. It has easily been the biggest swing in national opinion that I have ever been alive to witness, and it left me utterly confused. Like you said, the money was still put in to helping out kids, and the whole point was to make the issue available and understandable to as many people as possible. It just seemed like everyone felt so pressured to take such an extreme opinion on the issue, that we were left with a huge uneducated squabble.

  9. I have seen the Kony 2012 video and found it very moving and forwarded it to people via email, Facebook, and Twitter. However, since then, I have heard so many rumors about if the Invisible Children was an actual legitimate organization. I’m glad this post gave details about it and I enjoyed reading it. I do think that in order to gain a following and get people to donate money, videos like Stop Kony 2012 are required. If making these videos costs money, I think that Invisible Children can use their donations to do so. They are doing a good thing and donating their funds to Uganda, so I am on their side on this one.

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