Who's behind African militia leader viral film?

(CBS News) LOS ANGELES - Before this week, few Americans had ever heard of Joseph Kony or the atrocities he is said to have carried out in central Africa.

But watch what happened when a charity posted a video on the Internet to raise awareness about Kony and his crimes: On Monday, it had been viewed 66,000 times; the next day, 9,600,000 thousand views. By Wednesday, it was 50 million and counting.

In less than a week, it's become the most viral video ever. CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy looks into who's behind it.

Invisible Children's "Kony 2012" viral video stirs emotion and controversy

"The night I first met Jacob he told me what he and other children in Northern Uganda were living through."

The online film focuses on a Ugandan boy's fight for survival.

"My brother tried to escape then they killed him using panga. They cut his neck."

The 30-minute story is designed to raise awareness of the alleged war crimes of Joseph Kony, the rebel leader of the Lord's Resistance Army or LRA in Central Africa. He's accused of kidnapping as many as 30,000 children in the past 26 years.

"Turning the girls into sex slaves and the boys into child soldiers and he forces them to kill their own parents."

A San Diego-based charity called Invisible Children produced the video, which went online Monday. The charity's web site asked viewers to contact 20 celebrities and get them to spread word about the film. Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, and Ryan Seacrest mentioned the campaign to their millions of followers on Twitter and Facebook.

"They've been really smart about targeting a set of people and the celebrities," says Lindsey Turentine, the editor-in-chief of the technology website CNET. "It's a broad set of celebrities, but what most of these celebrities have in common is a huge social media following."

The result: an African militia leader is now the topic of conversation in schools yards across the country, including this Los Angeles middle school.

"It is amazing how people got really interested in this topic, because Uganda children are so far away," said one student.

Jason Russell made the film. He's advocated for international action against Kony for nearly a decade. The film is part of Invisible Children's campaign to rachet up pressure to arrest the warlord by the end of 2012.

But in Uganda, journalist Rosebell Kagumire says the film exaggerates the current situation and wonders what lasting good it will do.

"At end of the day, it simplifies the war that is so complex and gives this picture that you know only a certain person -- if a college student from America gives the money they will stop Kony. So I'm wondering where's the link between them giving money and stopping Joseph Kony, who has been fighting for 25, for 26 years"?

Invisible Children has been criticized for what it spends on media productions and marketing instead of direct aid to Africa. Last year, the charity took in $13.8 million. They spent $8.9 million and just $3.3 million went to programs in central Africa.

Zach Barrows works for Invisible Children. "So all of the money that's raised doesn't go to the ground in the conflict region," he said, "because if it did, we wouldn't be able to create these films, and we wouldn't be able to spread the word like we are."

By so smartly using social media, they have been able to spread the word better than anyone ever has online. On Wednesday, the central African warlord was trending higher on Twitter than quarterback Peyton Manning leaving the Colts or Apple unveiling its new iPad.

  • Ben Tracy

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