The impact of virals for charities

A few weeks ago, if you had said the name ‘Joseph Kony’ to a great number of us, the chances are all you would have received in return would be a blank stare – but what a difference a few weeks can make!

Thanks to ‘Kony 2012’, the film from charity Invisible Children, awareness of the Ugandan rebel leader has risen to quite an astonishing level. It has been reported that the video has become the most viral video in history, hitting the 100 million views mark in just six days – beating out the previous records of Susan Boyle’s Britain’s Got Talent audition video (9 days) and Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance video (18 days)! And it’s really not all too hard to believe – if your Facebook feed was anything like mine it would have been overrun with people sharing and commenting on the video soon after it was released.

The hard-hitting video has provoked emotional responses by highlighting a world that many may have previously been unaware of, or may have at least found pretty hard to believe existed. However, this isn’t the first time a viral video has been released in the attempt to highlight atrocities taking place across the world.

Towards the end of last year, activists Save the Congo released a film entitled ‘Unwatchable’ which aimed to put the horrors taking place on a daily basis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo into a Western context. The plan was to make the suffering of the Congolese people relatable to more people around the world in the hopes the issue would start to garner worldwide attention.

‘Unwatchable’ really does make for uncomfortable viewing, so be warned if you do choose to watch it! Based on the experience of a Congolese woman, the video begins with a small blonde girl picking flowers in her garden, and ends with her running away from the scene with horror after she has witnessed militia soldiers land in her quiet family home in the countryside and proceed to rape her teenage sister and brutally murder her parents.

Using such strong visuals has provoked negative reactions from some, but can using shock tactics like these actually help hammer the point home? If this kind of behaviour would be so incredibly unacceptable and hard to stomach in this country, why can we tolerate it happening elsewhere in the world?

Before watching ‘Unwatchable’ I know I never really thought that such things could be happening in the world, let alone be a very real every day danger in certain countries. What I found to be even more shocking is that these things could have been happening, and have been happening for a long time, but have almost been swept under the carpet – with the issues being all but ignored in the mainstream media. The issue can’t simply be ignored, or written off as somebody else’s problem – these are after all still innocent human beings that are being tortured and suffering.

Shock tactic videos have also been accused of oversimplifying the situation, but really the point of these types of virals isn’t to explain the whole history of an issue – more to just highlight a snippet of the awful things taking place in a format that is easily digestible and able to appeal to the widest audience. If videos like ‘Unwatchable’ and ‘Kony 2012’ are able to provoke strong enough reactions from a viewer, it can inspire them to find out more details about the issues on the organisations’ websites, or through other sources. It can also encourage people to get involved in any way they can with charities to help the cause, whether simply through donation or by actual volunteer work.

Getting more people involved with the charities that work to help solve these issues and help the victims is a really positive outcome of the viral videos, but can they have a more significant impact in real terms? ‘Liking’ a video on Facebook can help raise awareness of an issue, but is the simple action of clicking ‘Like’ or ‘Share’ really likely to cause anything to change in the world?

Perhaps creating hype around an issue and raising the level of awareness to a level that simply cannot be ignored really can force the hand of politicians to actually take action and put a stop to these things. ‘Kony 2012’ hopes to make a real difference by encouraging people to come together worldwide on the night of April 20 to make their combined voices impossible for those in power to ignore and to bring Kony to justice.

It’s still early days with these viral videos, so it’s too soon to know what impact they could really end up having on the world – such longstanding and complex issues won’t be solved overnight. But at least these videos have opened the eyes of millions of people to the horrors that take place in countries that may seem incredibly far away from their own, showing that human suffering is unacceptable no matter where in the world it takes place.


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