Occupy Wall Street, brought to you by social media

[4 November 2011]

By John Boudreau

San Jose Mercury News (MCT)

SAN JOSE, Calif. — This revolution is being Tweeted.

Occupy Wall Street has spread around the country with keyboard-clicking quickness as participants tap into Twitter, Facebook and microblogging site Tumblr to call Americans to the streets to protest what they see as a broken global financial system. What would have taken months to unfold in a different era has occurred in days and hours.

The Economist magazine calls it America’s “first true social-media uprising.”

But in just six weeks, the movement has moved beyond the nation’s shores to cities like Hong Kong and Buenos Aires. In all, more than 900 cities around the world have experienced Occupy protests, although most haven’t drawn the thousands of participants seen at events such as Occupy Oakland (Calif.) or Occupy Wall Street in New York City.

“If not for social media, 80 percent of our information would not have gone out to get people’s attention,” said Joanne Coppolino, an “occupier” in downtown San Jose. “Social media helps us to stand as one.”

Occupy participants say they have already scored victories, from raising a national outcry about income inequalities in the United States to taking partial credit for Bank of America dropping plans to charge a $5 monthly fee for debit card purchases in the face of consumer outrage. Whether the movement actually changes major policy and the financial system — or dramatically dwindles as winter sets in — remains to be seen. But how Americans rally around issues will never be the same.

“We’ll never again see a mass movement that doesn’t make extensive use of the state-of-the-art social media and communications,” said Kirk Hanson, executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.

In the 1960s, “The tools of social protest were mimeograph machines and postage stamps,” Silicon Valley futurist Paul Saffo said. “Now, it’s cyberspace. You have the exponential growth of the World Wide Web and social media and velocity (of the Internet) as things move much more quickly.”

Indeed, while there have been some anti-corporation slogans by a number of Occupy protestors, the iPhone- and iPad-toting members of the groups depend on the technology created by tech companies to sustain their movement and spread their message.

San Francisco-based Twitter reported that some 330,000 Occupy-related hashtags are tweeted every day. Scores of Occupy groups have set up pages on Facebook.com that not only broadcast their plans but also share strategies with like-minded activists. Online payment startup WePay, popular for its ease of use, has been used to raise a total of $400,000 for various Occupy groups.

“The average donation to Occupy Wall Street traveled over 800 miles,” WePay CEO Bill Clerico said. “If you think about it, during the 1960s (protest movements), it would have taken several days for that donation to travel that far and then the check to be cashed, not to mention the time it would have taken for information to travel to get that money.”

These Internet platforms allow participants to act as citizen journalists, uploading their own reports and video to social networking platforms and sites like YouTube and LiveStream.

“If it were not for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, email, this would have been squashed on Wall Street,” said Eugene “Roy” Sherrill, a member of the tech committee of Occupy San Jose. “Without the open public media, this movement wouldn’t have gone national and global. It can’t be slowed by big corporate media.”

American activists are using the same Internet tools that Arabs used to challenge oppressive governments, though the triggers for protests in the United States were more diffuse.

“Occupy Wall Street isn’t reacting to a specific incident or outrage but to the accumulating evidence that the rich have gotten richer and the poor have gotten poorer,” Hanson said. “This was a growing awareness that gradually took shape in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Once a method (of protest) was adopted, it could be replicated nationally within days.”

Still, a flurry of online activity around the broad movement won’t necessarily guarantee long-term commitments or action on the streets, said Andy Smith, a principal of Vonavona Ventures and lecturer at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. Clicking the “like” button on Facebook could give people such a sense of satisfaction that they don’t do anything else, he said.

“Will they be able to move people along the ladder of engagement?” said Smith, co-author of “The Dragonfly Effect,” a book about using social media to drive social change.

Without defined goals — such as passing new laws or getting someone elected president — the energy around the somewhat amorphous agenda pursued by various Occupy groups could ebb. “It becomes incumbent on them to aim this funnel of people toward their goal,” he said. “What is it they want to get done? How do you get there?”

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SOCIAL MEDIA’S ROLE IN THE OCCUPY WALL STREET MOVEMENT:

In just six weeks, the Occupy Wall Street movement has spread across the nation and the world with the help of social media.

—Twitter: Some 330,000 Occupy-related hashtags are tweeted every day, from instant reports at street protests to links to news articles.

—Facebook: Occupy groups set up pages that act as online rallying points for protests and requests for assistance, such as a need for generators in Buenos Aires or tips on defending against tear gas.

—Tumblr: The microblogging site, the first social media platform for the early Occupy protesters, enables people to post blogs, videos and photos about the movement.

—Livestream: People upload live video streams from the front lines at Occupy Oakland and elsewhere while observers post real-time comments.

—YouTube: A repository of video posts from Occupy events round the world, commentary and news coverage

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/150872-occupy-wall-street-brought-to-you-by-social-media/