A few months before Invisible Children released Kony 2012, the U.S. sent about 100 troops to Central Africa to help hunt Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army, and while the video's impact is debatable, it's certainly helping to keep those soldiers on the job.
Several paragraphs into Jeffrey Gettleman's New York Times report checking in with the U.S. advisory force that arrived last October, American officials credited the insanely popular viral campaign with helping to keep the mission in the spotlight. Writes Gettleman:
Gen. Carter F. Ham, the overall commander of American forces in Africa, has a “Kony 2012” poster tacked to his office door. As one American official put it: “Let’s be honest, there was some constituent pressure here. Did ‘Kony 2012’ have something to do with this? Absolutely.”
The U.S. troops don't patrol, but they help strategize and process information, which can be hard to come by and slow-moving. Gettleman describes the "primordially thick" terrain in the region around Uganda, Central African Republic, and South Sudan, that renders much U.S. technology useless. While the U.S. has invested $500 million in development aid in Northern Uganda, the 100-strong force is the extent of its on-the-ground military assistance.
As it turns out, keeping eyes on the U.S.-Ugandan force hunting for Kony is one of the few real impacts the Kony 2012 video had. While the viral video did bring the issue of Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army to a lot of people who had never heard of him before, its call for global demonstrations on April 20 went largely unheeded. And other U.S. government efforts to spread awareness or challenge Kony -- such as a video from U.S. senators trying to further awareness of Kony-- have not met with the kind of massively popular reception that Kony 2012 had.
The problem with Kony 2012 is that the video itself became more of a story than its subject. Filmmaker Jason Russell's very public breakdown on a San Diego street ensured that. But it made Joseph Kony a household name, and that means the troops tasked with finding him have a higher profile, and as The Times points out, higher expectations for success, than other small-scale U.S. missions in Africa.