Invisible Children, the nonprofit that produced “Kony 2012” -- widely regarded as the most successful viral video in history -- will shut down over the next year, the company announced Monday morning. The humanitarian organization will wind down its operations by the end of 2015, beginning with an immediate round of layoffs.
CEO Ben Keesey told BuzzFeed: “It’s the end of Invisible Children as most people know it.” The organization will no longer produce videos or events targeting teens and college students, according to Keesey, and is laying off all but five of its 22 employees in the U.S., while handing its overseas operations over to African partners over the next year. It will however continue to maintain a lobbying presence in Washington, D.C.
Founded in 2003, Invisible Children grabbed the spotlight in 2012 with the online video “Kony 2012,” documenting the abuses of the warlord Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda -- especially its forced recruitment of child soldiers -- and calling for an international effort to bring Kony and his LRA lieutenants to justice.
With minimal promotion and marketing support the video quickly went viral, racking up over 100 million views through social sharing, thrusting Kony and the LRA into the public consciousness, and winning Invisible Children fame in the process.
However, fame soon mingled with notoriety as critics accused the organization of opportunistically exploiting the Kony issue for commercial gain, as well as being motivated by “soft racism” informed by a “neocolonial” mentality. Further controversy ensued when co-founder Jason Russell had a high-profile public meltdown in San Diego. The decision to close the organization was apparently prompted by financial difficulty resulting from decreased fundraising revenues.
Despite the controversy, the fact remains Invisible Children succeeded in raising awareness of Kony, building support for intervention by U.S. forces in Uganda with the goal of apprehending the warlord, and in so doing demonstrated that social media activism isn’t necessarily superficial and ineffective, as many critics have alleged.
The search for Kony continues, with U.S. special forces helping Ugandan troops operating under the aegis of the African Union with training, technical advice, weapons and intelligence. Apprehending Kony was never going to be an easy task, as the LRA ranges over a vast territory straddling the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic measuring around 115,000 square miles -- the size of Arizona -- much of it blanketed with dense tropical forest. In March of this year, President Obama committed additional U.S. troops to the mission.