A video shows the terrible havoc a Ugandan warlord inflicts on his country and on his army of child soldiers-turned-slaves. In a few days it goes massively viral online with 14.4m views on Vimeo and more than 49m on YouTube at the time of writing.
It is spread via Facebook and Twitter, where suddenly it's a top trending topic.
It is a perfect example of the viral power of the Web, especially when it comes to making the public aware of sensitive issues. But criticism has started to arise about the accuracy of the information contained in the documentary, which has cast a shadow on the story.
The video in question is “KONY 2012”, a film campaign created by the non-profit group Invisible Children with the aim of raising international attention on the Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, leader of the rebel called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and gathering wide public support for his arrest following his indictment by the International Criminal Court in 2005.
With this roughly 30-minute-long video, Invisible Children wants to make Kony “famous” to keep pressure on US policymakers to ensure US don’t withdraw their support after President Obama authorised the deployment of 100 US army advisers to help the Ugandan military track down Kony last October.
Parallel to the growth of #stopKony support, concern is being raised about the validity of the information featured in the video as well as the financial transparency of its producers, as the Guardian reported.
Critics such as Michael Wilkerson on Foreign Policy concentrated on the inaccuracy of the facts contained in the video, such as the fact Joseph Kony is not in Uganda and hasn't been for 6 years. Others focused on the controversial financial status of Invisible Children and some, like Foreign Affairs previously questioned the accuracy of the facts reported by the advocacy group, amongst others, in its campaign against Kony.
Setting aside the virtues and vices of Invisible Children or its Hollywood-style campaign (the group published a reply to the major critics here), what is interesting from a journalistic point of view is the impact of such a massive diffusion of information through the Web.
Riyaad Minty, Head of Social Media at Al Jazeera, tweeted that looking through some twitter stats referred to #Kony2012, it appared that out of 5 million tweets in 24 hours, most of them come from the US, the UK, Canada and Australia, while there were just 18,989 for all of Africa.
Not only has the video in itself gone viral, but the number of articles, tweets and comments on the subject is also vast, getting to a point in which is difficult to identify the real facts from the misrepresentations, comments and personal opinions.
Once information is viral you can’t control it.
There’s nothing new in the difficulty of counteracting misinformation on a large scale. But the Internet has increased that scale, making it even more challenging for news media to maintain their role as fact checkers. News organisations can do everything in their power to spread accurate facts and counter misinformation, but they are not going to reach 50 million people overnight.
As an article by Craig Silverman on Poynter highlighted, misinformation spread faster and farther than the corrections, especially on social media. It’s what he calls “the law of incorrect tweets”, which says that “Initial, inaccurate information will be retweeted more than any subsequent correction.”
Sources: Guardian, Invisible Children, Foreign Policy, Visible Children, Foreign Affairs, Poynter