KONY 2012 Goes Viral: 5 Things to Know

KONY 2012 Goes Viral: 5 Things to Know
Joseph Kony
Adam Pletts/Getty

03/08/2012 AT 02:00 PM EST

The viral video "KONY 2012" has been making the rounds on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, and has drawn commentary and support from celebrities. But what's the story behind the 30-minute clip aimed at ousting Joseph Kony from hiding and power? Here are five things you should know about KONY 2012:

1. Who is Joseph Kony?
Joseph Kony, the target of the video, is the leader of the Ugandan rebel army known as the "Lord's Resistance Army" (LRA). He is the first name on the list of criminals sought by the International Criminal Court. Kony is behind the abduction of more than 30,000 children over the past 26 years, who have been forced to work as slaves and/or sex workers. Some of the children have been made to mutilate others and kill their own parents and families.

2. What is filmmaker Jason Russell's goal in creating the video?
Russell's ultimate goal is for the Ugandan military to find and arrest Kony, and to bring him before the ICC (International Criminal Court) to be tried. Through his organization, Invisible Children, Russell has been working since 2006 to raise awareness about Kony and his crimes. Spurred by President Obama's deployment of advisory troops to the region last October, Russell made the KONY 2012 video in order to "make Joseph Kony a household name" before the video "expires" on December 31, 2012. This April 20, Russell plans mobilize thousands to "blanket every street in every city" overnight with pictures and information of Kony, who is currently in hiding.

3. How are celebrities influencing?
As part of his effort, Russell has met with political officials, activists and cultural conversation starters (he pegs 20 celebrities and dozens of politicians in the video). Stars have Tweeted their support for the cause, and Ryan Gosling even linked to Russell's video on his Facebook page. "I'd like indicted war criminals to enjoy the same level of celebrity as me," George Clooney has said, and it's used in the video. "That seems fair. That's our objective."

4. Who is Jacob?
Jacob is a former child soldier whose story Russell tells in KONY 2012. Russell first met him during a 2003 visit to Uganda, when Jacob was hiding from the rebel army that killed his brother as he tried to escape. In the KONY 2012 video, Jacob tells Russell he once wanted to be a lawyer. Later, he tearfully confesses that he would rather be killed by the rebel army than stay alive because he would rather reunite with his brother in heaven than face his own bleak future on earth.

5. What's behind the backlash?
Not all celebs are quick to join the bandwagon and generate support. Some, such as Don Cheadle, have encouraged people to do research before jumping into the cause headfirst. "We need to be wary of traditionally paternalistic attitudes toward other nations and make sure we are acting as "helpers" not encroachers," Cheadle Tweeted after seeing the video. Some experts have also said the LRA is no longer active in northern Uganda and is actually primarily operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with an army that has been diminished to about 300 soldiers. Moreover, despite the KONY 2012 video's claims, the U.S. military has actually been deploying resources against Kony, who has been described as a "faded warlord" on the run, since 2008. Others argue that the greater crisis Ugandan children face is a public health one, with HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and a mysterious neurological disorder known as "nodding disease" plaguing the population.

The film KONY 2012 premiered Monday, March 5, at 12 p.m. PST. By noon Thursday more than 35 million views had registered on YouTube. Watch below and decide for yourself. 

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