At noon Pacific time last Monday, Jedidiah Jenkins, a member of the nonprofit organization Invisible Children’s inner circle, saw the group’s 278th YouTube video uploaded and wasn’t sure what to expect. Jenkins had written the script to the film, the 30-minute documentary “Kony 2012,” about the Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, and it had been a grind.
“It was really the hardest movie we’ve ever made” in the nearly decade-long history of the group, he told MTV News in a phone interview from Los Angeles.
The film is now the most viral video ever, with more than 70 million views on YouTube alone in the video’s first six days thanks in no small part to an army of young supporters who flexed their power by using social media to drive celebrities and friends to watch and share the video.
Creating online content and distributing it with social media was nothing new for Invisible Children — the group already had 450,000 Facebook friends the night before the video was posted and they’ve used YouTube to share videos about their cause since 2006 — but the way this video spread was something the group could never have planned.
Jenkins said the group posted the video at noon on Monday and that evening hosted a screening at Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles with celebrities Kristen Bell and Jason Bateman, who took to Twitter at 9:42 p.m., immediately after watching the film.
“We had a strategy to screen it at CAA with the few celebrities we know, get them in the room, make them watch it,” Jenkins said. Within the 24 hours that followed, celebrities including comedian Kelly Oxford, Ryan Seacrest, Diddy, Justin Bieber, Oprah and Steve Carrell had tweeted about the video after being notified about it by their fans thanks to a call-to-action in the documentary. Soon enough, Jenkins’ phone was ringing off the hook, including a call from Rihanna.
“She had been tweeted by her fans en masse, saying you’re in this video,” Jenkins recalled. “She just kind of responded and clicked on the link that one of her fans followed. It blew her mind. She tweeted it immediately. One of her music video directors, Anthony Mandler, actually went to Uganda with me to see our programs on the ground in November. Anthony texted her. They conference called me at 11 at night and I missed the call twice, because I was at a late dinner. Three calls in a row means it’s an emergency,” so Jenkins picked up.
“Anthony said, ‘Jed, I have Rihanna on the line. She wants to talk to you.’ ” Jenkins continued. He recalled the 24-year-old singer saying, “I’ve never been moved like this, I’ve never been involved. I want to go big. I want to get involved. I want this to be my thing and I want to blow this up. I want to get kids involved. I’m just responding to my fans. They’re so moved by this.”
Wherever you land in the debate over the organization’s tactics and the film’s accuracy, “Kony 2012″ is undeniably a social media phenomenon made possible by support from celebrities encouraged to get involved by their young fans. Even CNN’s Piers Morgan admitted he first heard about the movement from his 14-year-old son.
As of press time, Invisible Children has nearly 3 million likes on Facebook, and the question remains: What’s next for this enormous group of engaged and active young people when so many of their peers are apathetic? Jenkins said the group is considering participating in a voter-registration drive as the 2012 election approaches. But he admitted that first he and his colleagues have to get caught up.
“We couldn’t have ever, ever imagined that this would be the fastest viral movement in history,” he said. “We are dealing with an unprecedented amount of attention. It’s a huge amount of responsibility. It’s exhausting. We’re excited for the challenge, but it’s intimidating too.”