A jungle militia leader who is accused of atrocities by the International Criminal Court has found internet stardom.
Ugandan Joseph Kony lived in relative anonymity but a video about the crimes carried out by his Lord's Resistance Army is rocketing into viral video territory and is racking up millions of page views seemingly by the hour.
The marketing campaign is an effort by the advocacy group Invisible Children to create even greater awareness about Kony who is being hunted by 100 US Special Forces operators in four Central African countries.
The group's roughly 30-minute video, which was released on Monday, later reached more than 21 million views on YouTube.
The video is part of an effort called KONY 2012 that targets Kony and the LRA. "Kony is a monster. He deserves to be prosecuted and hanged," said Col Felix Kulayigye, the spokesman for Uganda's military.
But Kulayigye said that Kony's forces - once thousands strong - have been so degraded that he no longer considers him a threat to the region.
Because of the intensified hunt for Kony, his forces split into smaller groups that can travel the jungle more easily. Experts estimate that the LRA now has only about 250 fighters. The militia abducts children, forcing them to serve as soldiers or sex slaves, and even to kill their parents or each other to survive.
Uganda, Invisible Children and (hash)stopkony were among the top 10 trending terms on Twitter among both the worldwide and US audience on Wednesday night, ranking higher than New iPad or Peyton Manning. Twitter's top trends more commonly include celebrities than fugitive militants.
Ben Keesey, Invisible Children's 28-year-old chief executive officer, said the viral success shows their message resonates and that viewers feel empowered to force change. It was released on the website, www.kony2012.com. "The core message is just to show that there are few times where problems are black and white. There's lots of complicated stuff in the world, but Joseph Kony and what he's doing is black and white," Keesey said.
The burst of attention has also brought with it some criticism of Invisible Children's work on internet sites, including the ratio of the group's spending on direct aid, its rating by the site Charity Navigator, and a 2008 photo of three Invisible Children members holding guns alongside troops from the country now known as South Sudan. Invisible Children posted rebuttals to the criticism on its website.
www.icc-cpi.int/(International Criminal Court)