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Invisible Children’s Co-Founder Naked and Detained: Was the Viral Success Too Much?


It’s been a whirl-wind few weeks for co-founder of Invisible Children and Kony 2012 creator Jason Russell (pictured at left). As of writing this post, the Kony 2012 video has over 79.9 million views and over 1.3 million likes on YouTube. Along with viral success, however, comes extreme scrutiny, and Invisible Children has been both attacked and defended since the release of the video.

I can’t imagine how that kind of pressure feels, and it seems like Russell, 33, found his breaking point. Last night, he was  detained by San Diego police for “being drunk in public and masturbating,” according to a San Diego affiliate. Police say they received calls about a man running through the streets in his underwear, vandalizing cars, and screaming. Apparently he was totally naked and pounding his fists on the pavement at one point, as this video shows (warning, you totally see tushie if you go to that link, albeit from afar).

Invisible Children CEO Ben Keesey released a statement today, saying:

Jason Russell was unfortunately hospitalized yesterday suffering from exhaustion, dehydration, and malnutrition. He is now receiving medical care and is focused on getting better. The past two weeks have taken a severe emotional toll on all of us, Jason especially, and that toll manifested itself in an unfortunate incident yesterday. Jason’s passion and his work have done so much to help so many, and we are devastated to see him dealing with this personal health issue. We will always love and support Jason, and we ask that you give his entire family privacy during this difficult time.

Russell wasn’t actually arrested, only detained and sent to a medical facility for treatment. Police have said that he appeared to be under the influence of something, but there are no reports yet about what actually happened. Was he drunk? Was he on drugs? And if so, was he under the influence due to his own choices or was he drugged? It’s all speculation right now.

I think the question this raises for all of us, however, is this: just how prepared are we for success?

We talk a lot about failure. No blogger, podcaster, or other online content creator is a stranger to failure, and even the most successful among us don’t always make winning decisions. We talk about how important it is to pick up and move on, to learn from our mistakes, to be better next time. We’re ready to deal with failures.

But what about dealing with success? And not just from a technical standpoint. I’ve seen people talk about how important it is to be prepared for server overloads, dozens of emails every minute, and other growing pain problems that happen when you have a viral hit. What I think it even more important, though, it to be mentally ready for it.

  • Are you ready to be under an intense magnifying glass, with every mistake in your past brought to light?
  • Are you ready for your every move to be watched in case you make more mistakes?
  • Are you ready for the people in your life to be sucked into the Internet celebrity tornado?
  • Are you ready to deal with the trolls, who are jerks even when you’re not making mistakes?
  • Are you ready to question yourself even more than normal?
  • Are you ready be under intense pressure to replicate your success?
  • Are you ready for people to treat you like a hero or expert?

Success is not an easy thing. It doesn’t matter what your industry. Once, when I was working for institutional advancement at a college, we were awarded a million-dollar grant through a state programs – the largest in our school’s history. Our lead grant writer, who headed up the project, ended up having to take some time off because she was overwhelmed by the pressure. And I don’t blame her – even as a lowly student worker who did little more than proofreading on the project, it was overwhelming to fight for something and then suddenly have that level of success.

So what I hope you take from Russell’s story is not that Invisible Children or Kony 2012 is worthless or a joke, but rather that success is difficult and when unprepared for it, even the strongest people break. This is something that we all need to understand as online content creators with the ability for our work to go viral.

Picture by Jane Rahman, used under the Creative Commons attribution license.


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