March 15, 2012 at 2:34 PM ET
Word of the "Kony 2012" video spread like lightning via social media networks like Twitter and Facebook, reaching "so many Americans in a relatively short period of time," it demonstrated the "critical role social media played, especially for adults under age 30," says a new study.
The huge success of the video about Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony "provided striking evidence that young adults and their elders at times have different news agendas and learn about news in different ways," said the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project in research released Thursday.
"Those ages 18-29 were much more likely than older adults to have heard a lot about the 'Kony 2012' video and to have learned about it through social media than traditional news sources. Indeed, a special analysis of posts in Twitter showed that it was by far the top story on the platform.”
On Thursday, the 30-minute video, made by the group Invisible Children and released just 10 days ago, was closing in on 80 million YouTube views, and had been played more than 17 million times on Vimeo, "making it one of the most viewed videos of all time on those sites," Pew said. (According to Visible Measures, "Kony 2012" has had "well over 112 million total views since it was released.")
Younger adults were "also more than twice as likely as older adults to have watched the video itself on YouTube or Vimeo," Pew said.
Pew's report is based on telephone interviews done March 9 to 11 among a national sample of 814 adults ages 18 years and older living in the continental United States.
In the days following the release of "Kony 2012," Pew said 58 percent of young adults said the heard about the video, including 40 percent who said they heard a lot about it, compared to 20 percent of those ages 30-40; 18 percent of those ages 50-64; and 19 percent of those ages 65 and older.
"Even more striking is the way people learned about the story," Pew said: 27 percent of young adults "first heard about it through social media such as Facebook or Twitter and another 8 percent learned about it via other Internet sources."
In other words, "The Internet was more than three times more important as a news-learning platform for young adults than traditional media such as television, newspapers, and radio." Only 10 percent of young adults first learned about "Kony 2012" via "traditional media platforms."
Those 50 and older "were much more likely to have learned of the video from traditional sources, especially television: 29 percent of adults ages 50-64 heard from television, newspapers, or radio, compared with 12 percent who heard via the Internet. For adults age 65 and older, 47 percent learned about it from traditional sources and 5 percent learned from Internet sources."
Twitter's role was huge in getting the word out was huge; Pew said there were nearly 5 million tweets about the video the week after it was posted online March 5. The microblogging site was the vehicle used by a young Australian woman to first bring Oprah Winfrey's attention to "Kony 2012," and it boomed from there.
Winfrey tweeted about it to her 9.6 million followers. Also tweeting: Ryan Seacrest, Justin Beiber, Alec Baldwin and Taylor Swift. "The campaign was saluted by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, who said President Obama offered his congratulations for calling attention to the campaign to stop Kony and his army," reports Pew.
Pew said most of the responses on social media supported the video's message, which is to find and arrest Kony, who is accused of atrocities against Uganda's children:
Some believe Invisible Children's efforts are well-meaning but misguided, with other Ugandan tensions and issues deserving more attention. As more information continues to be reported about issue, the "tone of conversation" may be shifting somewhat, Pew said.
"The first two days after the video was online, when attention on Twitter was relatively modest, 77 percent of the Twitter conversation was supportive compared with only 7 percent that was skeptical or negative. Since March 7, when the response picked up dramatically, the percentage of tweets reflecting skepticism or criticism rose to 17 percent."