A little over two weeks ago, a non-profit group called Invisible Children uploaded a 30-minute documentary to Vimeo about Joseph Kony, a Ugandan rebel leader accused of using child soldiers, under the name Kony 2012.
Last Monday, Invisible Children uploaded the full documentary to YouTube. One week later, it had achieved over 100 millions views, becoming the fastest growing video campaign, and most viral video, in online history.
'Kony 2012' Explodes Online
According to Visible Measures, which has been tracking the Kony 2012 campaign's progress, Invisible Children posted the full 30-documentary on Joseph Kony at 3:00 p.m. on March 5, 2012.
Roughly 13 hours later, in the early hours of March 6, the first video response to the group's campaign was posted, meaning a reiteration of the campaign that was not just a repost of the video.
By the morning of March 8, 200 clips from the documentary had been posted by users on YouTube, with an average runtime of over six minutes. 70 million people had viewed the video, many of them posting clips on their Facebook profiles or tweeting links to the documentary.
By March 12, roughly 112 million people had viewed Invisible Children's video, with thousands more retweeting it as the data came in.
Crunching the Numbers
To give a little comparison to how fast this viral campaign has grown, Visible Measures compared the Joseph Kony 2012 campaign's success with other viral hits, from social campaigns like Evian's Live Young to the Charlie Bit My Finger Again video and Justin Bieber's music video for Baby.
The idea was to compare how fast the Kony video grew, achieving over 100 million views six days after going viral, with the heaviest hitters out there. The results were uncontested: Kony 2012 had broken all the records.
Susan Boyle's audition from Britain's Got Talent, before now the undisputed champion for fastest growing viral video, took nine days to top 100 million views.
Lady Gaga's music video for Bad Romance took 18 days, while Rebecca Black's infamous Friday video took 45. Even Bieber's Baby, which currently has just over one billion views for all the videos posted from it on YouTube, took 56 days to get over 100 million after going viral.
To measure each video campaign's growth and how fast it went viral, Visible Measures included both the original post and the video response clips posted by audiences.
The documentary posted by Invisible Children currently has 74 million views on YouTube. The remaining 38 million have come from the 750+ clips users have uploaded since.
Too Much Attention, Too Little Effect?
The Kony 2012 video begins with the slogan, Nothing Is More Powerful Than An Idea, and filmmaker Jason Russell, who made the video for Invisible Children, took that message to heart.
He targeted celebrities and policy makers like Oprah Winfrey and Angelina Jolie to promote the video, likely a tremendous part of its success. Since then, The Weinstein Company has contacted Russell to buy the film.
Even as the video reach grows exponentially, however, viewers in Uganda and around the world have had decidedly mixed reactions to the documentary.
Critics on the too little, too late side point out that much of the armed conflict occurred several years ago, that Kony may no longer be in Uganda, and that the atrocities committed by the country's own military reportedly match those of the rebel forces.
Others, meanwhile, have expressed their concern that the documentary calls for intervening by force rather than helping Ugandans solve the problem themselves, even as it paints a simplified picture of what is actually happening on the ground.
Russell, in an interview with Reuters last week, insists that the Invisible Children documentary is meant as a kick-start, and admits that it paints the issues involved with a wide brush.
It definitely oversimplifies the issue, he said. This video is not the answer, it's just the gateway into the conversation. And we made it quick and oversimplified on purpose.
We are proud that it is simple, he added. We like that. And we want you to keep investigating, we want you to read the history.
Russell also rejected the idea that the Kony 2012 video promotes a colonialist interpretation of the situation in Uganda, and advocates direct intervention.
We don't think Americans should be the world police, that is not what we are advocating, he said. We want to continue to put pressure on the policy makers, on the [U.S.] President to keep really hyper-focused on this issue.
Russell has announced that Invisible Children will be launching a new video, a ten-minute response to criticisms of the organization and its original post, sometime later on Monday.