Tag Archives: group dynamic

Occupier + current system + social media = ?

20 May 2012: The police crack down pretty hard on the Occupiers in Chicago today during their Anti-NATO protest.

I found this photograph moving around Facebook and I thought I’d post it.  I thought the Occupy protests were winding down, but based on this chaos, I’d say I was quite off the mark.

The focal point of the image is the young man guarding himself against a police officer, as well as on the overwhelmed and scared woman with the camera.  I feel like this image represents three main elements of the entire Occupy movement really well.

The young man represents the generic Occupier: the recent college graduate, possibly a hipster, who feels the need to stand out against the current regime and say that he doesn’t approve of the current status quo.  His hands are up to shield himself against the night stick, but the look on his face isn’t necessarily one of fear.  There is determination there, a confidence that comes out if you stare a little longer at him, and you can see that he isn’t just going to defend himself against the police officer, he is willing to take him on.

The police officer is not only representative of police presence and the issues that have come out of that during Occupy, but the illustration of faulty government itself.  The police are supposed to protect citizens, just as the government is supposed to benefit the people, but clearly the police were not protecting anyone but themselves in Chicago today, and clearly the system is not working for the governed because groups like the Occupiers and the Tea Partiers exist.

Finally, the woman with the camera represents media, more specifically social media.  Before social media took off, people heard about things like this through news articles or segments done by professionals.  Ideally, the news is supposed to be unbiased but it rarely is.  Now, with social media, people who were actually there in the moment can show their own evidence to anyone they want at lightning speed for free.  With these kinds of resources, the moments like this will always be available to the public and the truth will never be forgotten.

The Occupier, the current system and social media. Put them all together and what do you get?  Based on this photo, a real Charlie Foxtrot.



“Don’t tase me, bro!” ~ “I wasn’t planning on it, sir. I’m just trying to do my job.”

Police brutality is nothing to be overlooked or downplayed. It is a serious offense. However, it is not the all-encompassing defining action of the police against Occupy. Mostly they are just trying to do their job.

As mentioned in my previous post, there has been an increase in criminal activity in and around Occupy protest sites. As a result of that activity, the police force has to be ever more vigilant at those sites to continue to protect their cities. But as the numbers of police officers increase to survey the areas of protest, tensions between the protesters and the police force rise.

Sgt. Ed Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, explains this tension. In a Fox News article, he states, “paralysis is occurring across law enforcement. It’s becoming a Catch 22 […] To go in there to clear the [Zuccotti] park is going to cause confrontation. To not do so is detrimental.” Regarding the specific pepper spray incident in Kara Jonach’s post, Mullins told the Staten Island Advance to “remember who created the atmosphere,” referring to the rowdy protesters that caused many well-mannered, professional police officers to respond on-scene. He goes on to say that Bologna, the man responsible for pepper spraying the girls, “made a decision to use the pepper spray and it wasn’t popular,” essentially saying that it was one man’s decision and his actions should not be reflected on the police force as a whole.

Since this event, the way the police interact with protesters at Zuccotti park has changed greatly. A New York Times article reports that “most uniformed officers have remained on the perimeter of the park since the third week of the protest, rarely venturing in,” and the only officers within the park dress in plainclothes and are just there to keep the department privy to planned marches and the like. This new hands-off policing has “pleased the protesters, who have had numerous run-ins with law enforcement officers and tend to view them negatively.”

Based on what happened with the pepper spraying incident, there is good reason for protesters to be weary of a heavy police presence. However, I do not see why Bologna’s unlawful actions should somehow equate the entire police force. An anonymous police official at Zuccotti Park stated, “We try to maintain a low profile and not antagonize the crowd […] and once you go in there, there’s a sense of hostility.” Is it important for protesters to watch out for the police that act out? Sure, absolutely. But does that mean that every boy in blue is a threat? Not at all.


What We Have to Gain: Why Occupy Wall Street Defies the Laws of Social Psychology

It has been well established in the realm of social psychology that, when acting within a large group, individuals often become “deindividuated” (Ziller 344).  That is, the individual disappears within the group, and no longer feels the burden of individual responsibility.  This inhibition fuels behaviors that group members would not commit on their own, but because of the safety of a group identity, feel compelled to act in a way that is not consistent with the self (Ziller 344).  However, one important aspect of this theory is not as commonly discussed: when do individuals tend to deindividuate, and when do they choose to stand by themselves?

R.C. Ziller (1964) suggests that whether or not individuals take on the group identity depends on the level of reward or punishment offered by the actions of the group.  When a situation is likely to be rewarding, group members learn to individualize themselves within the group because they want to take credit for the actions that were or will be positively recognized.  Conversely, when the outcome is negative and involves punishment, individuals are more likely to fade into the group identity to diffuse responsibility among other group members.  With this set of parameters, Ziller brings about a compelling dichotomy to group dynamics.

In the Occupy Wall Street Movement, social media is commonly used to disseminate ideas and events quickly and efficiently to a large number of people, as is discussed in Wasik’s article.  Ziller’s theory can be easily applied to the movement and this use of social media forums, like Twitter.  The two types of action, based on reward and punishment, can be transparently overlayed onto the Twitter constructs of “Followers” and “Following” for any given individual involved in the movement to any degree (whether it be actively participating in the movement, or merely knowledgable that the movement exists). 

Occupy Wall Street protesters gather in New York City in October 2011.

On Twitter, individuals can “follow” other Twitter accounts so that they receive updates from these users.  In OWS, Twitter is used to quickly get the word out about events and other happenings within the movement.  By “following” OWS-related Twitter accounts, people become “deindividuated” within the group.  That is, the group associates with them, but the individual can choose whether or not to associate with the group by ignoring, endorsing, participating in, or condemning the tweet.  On the other side, this same user also has “Followers” of his or her own.  When a person chooses to tweet about the movement, he or she is making a conscious effort to individualize the self from the group.  That is, the individual is taking credit for and acknowledging membership within the movement.

R.C. Ziller’s theory applies to Twitter in that it hypothesizes that individuals at first choose to “follow” the movement-based Twitter account as an effort to ‘test the water.’  These individuals do not yet know whether the outcome of being in such a group will be rewarding or punishing, so they remain deindividualized.  Once an individual feels comfortable with the movement and feels that there will be some type of reward for being involved, he or she chooses to individualize the self by publishing or citing tweets that endorse or condemn the movement.  Thus, by tweeting, the individual takes credit for his or her stance. 

R.C. Ziller’s theory serves to teach us that it’s really all about the outcomes: if good things happen within OWS, individuals will likely try to take credit for themselves, while if bad things happen surrounding the movement, individuals disappear into the group identity.  This rapid fluctuation of loyalty to the cause makes OWS quite volatile: if people are not instinctually driven to remain loyal to the group when the group’s actions are rewarded, the movement is liable to fall apart as soon as it comes close to reaching a major success. 

Thus, it would be to the great advantage of the group to offer rewards beyond recognition for its members.  Here we see something that Ziller did not discuss in detail: the goal of a mass movement.  OWS retains strong members throughout its ups and downs because it promises to create change for those involved, i.e. the 99%.  Although social theories like that of R. C. Ziller are largely applicable to group protests, Occupy Wall Street proves unique in its enduring nature and promise to create change for its members.


The Psychological Side of Protest

Bill Wasik does an excellent job of explaining how social media and the instantaneousness of contemporary technology make riots stronger, more unpredictable, and more dynamic.  Social media possesses the ability to bring groups together who would have never found each other otherwise, while instant communication bases like BBM and Twitter serve to physically converge the members of these groups in events like riots and protests.  Combined, these two forces strengthen one’s belongingness in the group and create the “Elaborated Social Identity Model” which creates a dynamic group, rather than individual, identity and frees members to act on their “baser impulses,” thus intensifying the riot.

When discussing the potential for apps to play a role in planning and executing riots more effectively, Wasik states that “When disorder strikes or danger looms, [rioters] will fall back on the social ties they have already established, the tools they already posses, the patterns they already follow.”  With this very observation, Wasik speaks against his own argument that when people come together to riot, they will act strongly in favor of the group’s agenda or “identity”.  The very nature of these violent riots presents participants, first-timers and regulars, with a dangerous, uncertain situation.  According to Wasik’s statement, these rioters are likely to fall back on their pre-established social ties and patterns, they will revert to their more practiced, and likely more socially acceptable, behaviors and lose the spark to act that is mob mentality.  Although Wasik thoroughly discusses the role of psychological group dynamic in riots, he fails to bring both possible outcomes together to analyze which group situations might produce stronger riots and which may weaken the event’s agenda, which is an important factor when considering the psychological processes involved in riots and protests.