5 Reasons “Kony 2012” Went Viral

BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti breaks down how a 30-minute video about a Ugandan war criminal became a social media phenomenon. The following quotes are from an interview Peretti did with The Guardian. posted on

1. 1. It’s Not A Bummer

There has been a long tradition of people who’ve tried to make videos go viral around important political issues, particularly human rights atrocities. They’ve come to me asking for advice. They usually have videos that use a lot of pictures of kids dying, kids starving – horrific things that they want people to see. They think that if people just saw, they would share it – they would be outraged and share it.

These types of videos almost never go viral, or they very, very rarely do. That’s because it’s a bummer to send something like that to all your friends. Even if you are moved by the issue.

So one of the things that’s remarkable about the Kony video is that the underlying cause is about children being killed, these atrocities. Not the best starting point in terms of pure virality. It’s an important cause that matters, but it’s not the easiest to make spread.

The Kony video starts out not with the gruesome issue, but the fact that we’re all connected to each other. There are cute kids. There’s the moment of childbirth, which as anyone who’s had kids understands is one of the most moving experiences that someone can have.

3. 2. Emotions Over Facts

One key, I think, of how they were able to do this is that the currency of sharing on the web is emotion. People tend to share things that move them emotionally. Facts and figures don’t always help, but making people feel something is really important to getting them to share.

They kind of prime the viewer with profoundly emotional content, and the idea of how we’re all connected.

5. 3. It Shows People Sharing

They even show how people share, people at their computers, clicking on videos.

Any kind of content about connections or relationships gets shared at a higher rate. My theory is that it activates the social part of your brain to see [images of connections]. So all of that sort of priming in the beginning is important to get people in the right mindset.

The video constantly comes back to the theme of social media, Facebook, Twitter, and communications technology. The people who most actively use those tools are proud of it, and they want to believe that it makes the world better, because they spend all their time on it.

A lot of the most viral things refer to the medium: Tweets about Twitter, status updates about the stupidest status updates. It makes people feel very good about themselves for using those tools. It gives people something they want to believe in already.

7. 4. There’s A Darth Vader

They have a list of bad guys and they put Kony at No.1 on the list. He personifies evil. People like the clarity of good and evil, black and white. When you talk in a sophisticated way about an issue, people get discouraged, because they can’t do anything about it. There’s no clear path of action. But when you talk about, ‘Darth Vader is doing all of this’ – the video even mentions Star Wars, which is a clear example of a hugely popular movie that uses these ideas of good and evil.

When you talk about most social issues in a complex way, people start to feel, ‘Oh God, it’s all messed up, I don’t understand.’ But when you show a guy and say, ‘This is the most evil person in the world’ – that’s appealing.

9. 5. A Call To Action

And then the video quickly transitions to inspiring things you can do to change the situation. And there’s this upbeat music, and kind of an emotional high. You’re just there, on the horrific images, for a split second, and there’s upbeat music, and the message that we can all make a difference.

Video available at: http://vimeo.com/37119711.

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