Jason Russell said he never knew he was driving into a war zone. At 24, he had just graduated from the University of Southern California after studying film, he said, and was out looking for a story to tell.
Suddenly, he said, gunmen shot at the truck in front of him, and that is how he discovered the horrors wrought by Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army. Mr. Russell would dedicate the next nine years of his life, often in obscurity, to making them a household name.
This week, in a testament to the explosive power of social media, he managed to do so in a matter of days, baffling diplomats, academics and Ugandans who have worked assiduously on the issue for decades without anything close to the blitz of attention that Mr. Russell and his tight-knit group of activists have generated.
Since being posted on Monday, their video, “KONY 2012,”has attracted more than 50 million views on YouTube and Vimeo, generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations on the first day alone and rocketing across Twitter and Facebook at a pace rarely seen for any video, let alone a half-hour film about a distant conflict in central Africa.
The US government has noticed, as MSNBC reports:
The State Department on Thursday dismissed any suggestion that the United States might pull its advisers out of Uganda, a prospect raised by the “KONY 2012” video generating millions of views on the Internet.
That viral video details the atrocities carried out by Josephy Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, and is part of a marketing campaign by the advocacy group Invisible Children to raise awareness about the issue. The jungle militia leader is wanted for atrocities by the International Criminal Court and is being hunted by troops in four Central African countries. Last year, the U.S. sent nearly 100 Special Forces troops to Uganda to train military forces there in an attempt to stop Kony.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Thursday applauded the effort to “shine a light on the horrible atrocities of the LRA.”