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Kony collared by the sound of a million Tweets

  • 12 March 2012

In the early 2000s I worked as a communications officer for an international aid organisation. Each week, I'd see dozens of stories come across my desk from communities ravaged by natural disasters, famine and poverty.

One of the few times I went home and cried was after reading the testimonies of former child soldiers in Northern Uganda. Drought, earthquake and poverty were bad enough, but the horrors that the children of Northern Uganda were put through by the Lord's Resistance Army were something else.

I spoke about the stories with friends, but they had never even heard of the group or its leader, Joseph Kony. It just wasn't on anyone's radar.

On Thursday night I went for dinner at my sister's house and she asked me about 'this guy Kony'. She'd seen some posts about him on Facebook, and had decided to look him up on Wikipedia. She wanted to know more. She wanted something to be done.

Somehow, a conflict that never, even in its worst days, made it to the front page of our newspapers, has become a topic of conversation around the world.

We've been hearing for some time about the power of social media to change the power balance in the world — to take it out of the hands of governments and society's elite, and put it back into the hands of the masses. The potential is surely there: more than 750 million people are on Facebook, while Twitter averages around 140 million posts a day.

The electronic age has seen an explosion of voices shouting their opinions and views into cyberspace, but organising the vast mass of voices behind a single idea has proved difficult.

While social media played a role in uniting and informing protesters in the Middle Eastern uprisings, it was used mostly in support of the on-the-ground activism that brought down the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. The Occupy Movement used social media as a vehicle and awareness raising, but the proliferation of voices and agendas diluted the campaign until people stopped listening altogether.

This time, we saw something different. An orchestrated social media campaign involving a 30-minute video and a simple call to action has put Kony in the minds of millions.

US-based advocacy organisation Invisible Children has been