Since its beginnings in New York City, the Occupy Wall Street movement has become a worldwide phenomenon with a presence in 82 countries. However, this rapid spread has not been entirely beneficial to the movement’s image.
Bill Wasik describes an incident in which electronic musician Kaskade accidentally caused mayhem by tweeting that he would put on an impromptu show in a public place as publicity for his new album. As the tweet spread, a large crowd overran the area and resisted policemen’s efforts to disperse them. Although Kaskade generated a substantial response, he was unhappy with the result. He asked his crazed fans to go home, worried they would tarnish the image of electronic music.
A similar problem has arisen for the original OWS protesters. Although most countries have followed the intended principles of the movement, some have not. In Spain, an existing movement which had used violent riots associated itself with the nonviolent OWS. In Italy, a peaceful protest turned violent when protesters began rioting and destroying property. These highly visible violent outbursts harm the peaceful image of OWS.
OWS has also been co-opted to spread a different message than its intent. In Iran, students used “occupy wall street” protests to show radical anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiments. The notoriety of the movement is being hijacked by others to gain a higher profile for their own ideas.
As Wasik says, groups and initiatives can become more visible through their use of social media. However, they risk becoming visible enough that they lose control of their message.