IS Magazine Blog

What Role Does Social Media Play in the Occupy Movement?

Nov 14 2011

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 31:  Runners and fans wait ...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

The Occupy Movement, which initially began in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in late July of this year, has spread like wildfire throughout the world. The most influential of these Occupy demonstrations occurred in New York City during the month of September, when more than 1,000 protestors marched through the Wall Street district to demand greater social and economic equality. This group, calling themselves the “99%,” wished to make the public aware of the growing disparity between the tiny minority of the wealthy elite and the economically-depressed majority. Since this event, tens of thousands have been forming their own Occupy movements in cities throughout the world.

The Occupy Movement represents a fundamental change in the history of grassroots campaigns due to the role that social media sites have played in its organization. In the past, protests were typically organized by a leader or small group that would be responsible for identifying the purpose of their actions. These organizations would then recruit more followers by spreading news via literature and demonstrations at key locations. College campuses were particularly popular due to the generally liberal and passionate views of the student body. The Occupy Movement, on the other hand, has no leading body and has been criticized for not demonstrating a clear goal, yet it has attracted the attention of hundreds of thousands of people all over the world by using social media services such as Facebook and Twitter.

Social media news sources have reported that both Facebook and Twitter have become hotbeds for the Occupy Movement due to their ability to connect millions of people. Hundreds of different Occupy Facebook groups have surfaced since the September protest, with each representing a geographic area (for example, a city) or a certain demographic (for example, Quakers). The Occupy Los Angeles page, for example, provides users with information about protests in the area as well as throughout the world. The group also posts news articles that discuss the various economic and social inequalities occurring in Los Angeles and in other places. Instead of turning to traditional news outlets, then, more and more people are going to Facebook and other social media news sources to get their information.

Facebook and Twitter have become a new way to receive information due to their ability to receive data at the moment it happens. Occupy Wall Street, for instance, became influential because many of the protestors could film the events with their phones and digital cameras and then upload them to Facebook. Images of police spraying crowds of people with tear gas and hitting them with batons provoke a great deal of anger in many people - whether the actions were justified or not - which is why these uploaded videos fuel the urge to start new demonstrations. Twitter also played a role in organizing these demonstrations, as protestors could communicate with each other on the fly and form groups very quickly. Now that the Occupy Movement has spread everywhere, more traditional organizations such as labor unions are really starting to pay attention to the influence that social media has on the public.

Brandi Tolleson holds a master's degree in English and writes prolifically on social media news, current events and other relevant social issues.