THE PRODUCERS of an Internet video about the African warlord Joseph Kony have already proven one of their main points. Social media, the film’s narrator proclaims at the outset, are “changing the way the world works. The game has new rules.”
True enough: In the first seven days after its posting on March 7, “Kony 2012” was viewed more than 112 million times, according to the Visible Measures blog — making it the most explosive viral video phenomenon in history. An extraordinary amount of fresh attention has been focused on the effort to hunt down a man who, over the past quarter-century, has abducted and enslaved tens of thousands of children in Uganda and three other African countries. Notwithstanding the inevitable Internet backlash, this is a good thing.
Produced by a nonprofit group called Invisible Children, the film explains — in terms tailored to a 5-year-old — how Mr. Kony terrorized children in northern Uganda, who for years fled their villages at night to avoid abduction. Captured boys were made to fight; girls became sex slaves. Though he was the first suspect indicted by the International Criminal Court, in 2005, and the Obama administration dispatched 100 special operations forces last year to assist in the hunt for him, Mr. Kony remains at large — probably in the Orientale province of Congo or in the Central African Republic.
The 29-minute video’s very simplicity has provoked abundant complaints: among them, that it exaggerates the threat posed by a warlord who was driven out of Uganda six years ago and now has only a few hundred followers; that it promotes a “white man’s burden” view of African problems; and that its focus on capturing Mr. Kony this year is misplaced. It’s true that Mr. Kony is no longer the menace he was a decade ago, and that life in northern Uganda — the focus of the film — has mostly returned to normal.
Yet according to the United Nations, the Kony forces, called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), are still causing harm. They have carried out 20 attacks in Congo since the beginning of this year, in which one person was killed and 17 abducted. In the past five years, the United Nations says, 2,000 civilians have been killed in the Orientale province and 1,109 children abducted in armed attacks, the “vast majority” of which are attributed to the LRA. Ugandan troops hunting Mr. Kony are poorly equipped and benefit from U.S. expertise. In a letter to President Obama, Invisible Children urges him to leave U.S. advisers in place and “engage directly” with African leaders to “increase the numbers and capabilities of troops deployed to LRA-affected areas, and boost efforts to encourage defections from the rebel group.”
Even if this is done, locating and capturing Mr. Kony in 2012 will take some luck. Bringing him to justice before the International Criminal Court could be another slog. On Wednesday, the 10-year-old court obtained its first conviction, of another warlord abuser of children from Congo, six years after it took custody of him and three years after the trial began. If social media can speed up bringing criminals like Mr. Kony to justice, then more power to it.