‘Kony 2012’ Documentary Becomes Most Viral Video in History

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“Kony 2012,” a 30-minute documentary about Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony, was viewed more than 100 million times in just under a week, making it the most viral video in history, Mashable reports.

According to Visible Measures, which has been monitoring the campaign’s growth, the documentary generated 112 million views as of Monday, March 12 — one week after it went live. The analytics company tracked not just the original version, but also the hundreds of clips uploaded across the web, mostly from video responses to the campaign, created by nonprofit Invisible Children, which aims to expose the war crimes committed by Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Once the video hit YouTube, translated and subtitled versions soon popped up in Spanish, Italian, French and Chinese.

To help us understand just how fast this campaign took off, Visible Measures compared its growth to other popular record-setting videos. Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” for instance, took 45 days to surpass 100 million views. Susan Boyle’s Britain’s Got Talent performance did it in nine days, Justin Bieber’s “Baby” in 56 days and “Charlie Bit My Finger” in 402 days.

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So how did “Kony 2012” go viral so quickly? It helped that Invisible Children already had a strong base of followers on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. And unlike some other videos whose creators or subjects might not have expected such explosive results (we’re looking at you, Charlie), the organization designs its campaigns with social media in mind.

“They create narratives that can be boiled down to 140 characters while still engaging people emotionally,” social media researcher Danah Boyd told the New York Times. “They create action messages that can be encapsulated into a hashtag.” She added that because the organization’s followers are young and very active in social media, the message was inserted into a broad range of conversations across the web. Followers were also enlisted to spread the word to celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Justin Bieber, Ryan Seacrest and Kim Kardashian, who then relayed the message to their massive online fan bases.

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Invisible Children has received a considerable amount of critical backlash, largely centered on whether the organization oversimplified a very complex issue and whether it uses its funding ethically. Either way, the criticism drove more and more traffic to the video. And as the conversation continues, the views are likely to continue surging.

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