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Kony 2012's digital message stumbles on the streets

A supporter uses her mobile phone to take a photograph of a projection that is part of the non-profit organization Invisible Children's "Kony 2012" viral video campaign in New York April 20, 2012.

Keith Bedford/Reuters/Keith Bedford/Reuters

The activist organization that set a record last month with 100 million views in six days for its Kony 2012 viral video struggled to turn that burst of digital enthusiasm into concrete action, with few supporters answering the call to plaster their cities with demands to bring long-time Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony to justice.

The keen initial interest fizzled into a lacklustre action in Canada and elsewhere around the world for the appeal to "cover the night" this weekend, undone by a backlash against the Invisible Children activist group behind the appeal, the sensational meltdown of its co-founder, and the sense that Kony 2012 was a fad that had passed.

More than 30,000 people on various Facebook groups in Toronto said they intended to attend a Kony 2012 gathering Friday night in Dundas Square, but by early Saturday morning, there remained little more than a few dozen posters and the remnants of others.

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"Seriously, anyone know what happened to KONY 2012?" one Twitter user in Toronto posted. "I thought something BIG was supposed to happen tonight?"

The organizer of a Montreal Facebook group with more than 400 participants cancelled the event due to the campaign's negative publicity in the weeks after the video was released. The event's message reads: "Due to many rumours and news reports about Kony 2012 being a fraudulous [sic]organization. I am going to cancel the event."

Close to 30,000 people in total had pledged on Facebook to attend gatherings in Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Montreal, Halifax, Charlottetown and Yellowknife, but turnout was far smaller. The 21,000 members of one Vancouver Facebook group were to meet at the Art Gallery or at the Olympic Cauldron. But local media reported that both locations were quiet, with only a few posters seen downtown.

"Did what I could...had a bit of a tough time seeing the rest of the 21,000 though," Scott Werdal of Vancouver commented on Facebook.

In other parts of the world, Australian media reported fewer than 50 people in Brisbane and about 25 people in Sydney. The turn out was similar in Britain.

Mr. Kony and his guerrilla group, the Lord's Resistance Army, are responsible for a 26-year campaign of terror that has been marked by child abductions and widespread killings. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court for heinous attacks in multiple central African countries.

Philip Alston, a former UN envoy led a fact-finding mission on atrocities by the LRA, said the viral video was powerful but suspected the public fascination with Kony 2012 would fade.

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"There's a very strong likelihood that this is the 15 minutes that [Andy]Warhol spoke about, and that very soon the world will have moved on," he told the Reuters news agency.

The viral social media campaign that began on March 5 gained attention from millions of viewers around the world and faced intense criticism, with people questioning the integrity of the activist charity organization based on its simplistic and incomplete representation of events in Uganda and the seemingly vague allocation of its charity dollars.

Co-founder Jason Russell's public breakdown, running and yelling naked in the streets of San Diego, brought even more backlash.

In the wake of the campaign, however, the Ugandan army has stepped up its effort to hunt down Mr. Kony with increased support from the United States. A top U.S. senator said as lawmakers will push for expanding the State Department's rewards for justice program to target him. "The noose is beginning to tighten," said Senator Johnny Isakson, who travelled to central Africa earlier this month and met with U.S. military advisers from among the 100 U.S. troops — mostly Army Special Forces — Barack Obama sent to Uganda last year to advise regional forces in their hunt for Mr. Kony. The African Union also joined the search for the warlord.

With reports from Reuters, AP

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