Tag Archives: Social Networking

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.



Features of The Global Square: News Commons

In my last post I discussed the one of the features that The Global Square plans to present on their upcoming network, the Renaissance and Evolution Forums. The idea of their three main features as a whole is to, “provide expertise, reduce redundancy and allow global collaboration on the parts of the system which are of global interest” (The Global Square, 2012).  The next feature on their list is the News Commons.

News Commons:

The News Commons will be a Twitter-style micro-blog. The information that rapidly rolls on this ticker can be sorted by tag, region or source. Users will be able to post their own information, pictures or videos. Users will also be able to post events here with maps, calendars, and even legal documents if necessary. This feature’s purpose is to spread information that is important on global and local scales. Unlike Twitter and social networks with which we are familiar, the information on The Global Square’s News Commons is not meant for users to,” passively absorb it as a means of entertainment, or even education,” but instead acted upon to, “correct flaws in governance” (The Global Square, 2012).

The News Commons will theoretically serve as a means of raising awareness for worthwhile causes, and help to prioritize events rather than simply providing a useless string of unorganized information. Within OWS this could help resolve the disorganization and vagueness they have been accused of, while still holding true to OWS ideals. In fact, Melissa Bell claims that Occupiers were already speaking the language of social networking. She says, “Occupy protesters seem to have fully realized and implemented the lessons of a thousand message boards in a real-life community” (Bell). I believe The Global Square will further the efforts of Occupy Wall Street by embracing the same kind of non-hierarchical transfer of information.

Occupy’s Own Facebook – The Global Square

In browsing the internet for links between social networking and social protests, one of the first things I found was a website called “Activist Passions,” an online dating site for activists seeking a partner who is not only looking for love, but to change the world. If there is an online dating site for activists, why shouldn’t they have their own social network?  Especially when there are so many important reasons why they should.

In my last post, I mentioned some of the complications of using social networking for social protests. Since information is posted on public websites, police and security also know exactly when and where groups plan to demonstrate. Even information sent “privately” in messages, is still technically owned by that social networks company, and can be subpoenaed from the government. (Captain, 2011)

The specific project that Occupy techies have been working on is called Global Square. According to RoarMag.org, “The structure is designed for organization and coordination of personal relationships, assemblies and action, the platform is also conceived for independent work systems, movements struggling for civil causes and more” (Noel, 2012). Although the idea behind this was originally privacy for planning events and open discussions, The Global Square also hopes to use this to reach out to the masses.

With this new social network being so specific, one has to question how well this will circulate. Many protests originally used social networking sites that the potential protestors were already members of. Committing notifications to this exclusive website would mean that people would already have intentions of protesting and events would no longer just be popping up on a website that millions of other users are already on.

The Global Square’s Wiki states, “While Facebook and Twitter have been very helpful for disseminating basic information and aiding mass mobilization, they do not provide us with the tools for extending our participatory model of decision-making beyond the direct reach of the assemblies and up to the global level. Neither do they provide us with project management tools for our working groups”  (The Global Square Wiki, 2012). With The Global Square, protestors will theoretically have the tools and privacy available to become stronger and more organized.

Currently The Global Square is asking for help in building the program. All they need is some coders to achieve their mission (Noel, 2012). If this network can achieve the privacy it aims for, this could bring much change to the modern protest, especially in places where current protests are particularly dangerous. I have high hopes but have to wonder if they’ll actually get away with this.

Social Networking Brings Strength in Numbers

There is no doubt that Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is one of the biggest political movements in American History. “As of January 31st, [UNC sociologists Caren and Gaby] identified more than 1,400 local and national Facebook groups with over 340,000 users contributing more than 3,000,000 posts and comments” (Caren & Gaby 1). However, Facebook is only one of the social networking sites that OWS is feeding off of, and not even its main source.

According to Bill Wasik, “The media harped on how these protests grew through Twitter, but it was really the movement’s Tumblr—wearethe99percent. tumblr.com—that made it work. Those photos of struggling Americans essentially virtualized the occupation the street protesters were merely the visible symbol of the giant, subterranean mob of Americans struggling to get by. ” (Wasik 10).  With Twitter, users have a limit of 140 characters, so generally you just see short sentences of support. Facebook is more about news and photos of the actual protests and users being able to post publicly the events that they attend. All social networks are important to the cause, but Tumblr captures the soul of the movement much more than any other.

Image Credit: Tina Casey October 9, 2011.

The photographs Bill Wasik’s referred to on the OWS Tumblr are not pictures of mobs of people protesting in cities, they are pictures of individuals with their personal stories, explaining why this movement is meaningful to them. Just like Fred Ritchin discusses about an “interactive revolution” in hyperphotography, the subject of the photo is also using their voice to describe their own personal reactions to the movement (Ritchin 9). Although these people are not subjects of candid photography, and have created these images themselves, that could be exactly what makes Tumblr the most powerful drive behind OWS.

According to CleanTechnica writer Tina Casey it’s not just the ability to share photos, videos, and thoughts but the fact that “people feel more comfortable about exercising their right to share an opinion” (Casey 1). The Economist writer G.L. theorizes that this is because, “Writing out your story and taking a picture of yourself doesn’t require the commitment and perhaps risk of going to a march, even if there’s one going on in your area; but it does take a bit more effort than writing a tweet or clicking a “Like” button” (G.L. 1). The people that have felt moved enough by OWS to tell their personal encounters bring a sense of solidarity to group over the internet that could normally only be felt when present at the actual protest, shoulder to shoulder to other supporters.

Through social technology almost anyone can be involved in the movement. According to Héctor Codero-Guzmán, PhD, a sociology professor at the City University of New York, who wrote an academic paper on the visitors on the Occupy website‘s demographics, less than one-fourth of the site’s visitors have actually been to an Occupy protest (Franzen 1) . So, whether they are standing in front of a laptop camera as a protestor on Wall Street or watching the feed from their office desk, these wide-spread supporters make Occupy Wall Street a more wide-spread and decentralized protest than this country has ever seen before.

Social Media: Just a New Tool for the Movement

Social Media has played a vital role in the transfer of information for the Occupy Wall Street Movement. However, from what I can see, I do not believe that without the technology, the message would not have spread as much or as far as it has. I believe social media just provides a new outlet for communication that would have occurred, regardless of the technology’s existence.

This is supported in Gladwell’s New Yorker article. He speaks of an incredible Civil Rights sit-in that spread across state lines in the 1960s and highlights how this was able to happen without any of today’s technology to help get the word out. Yes, social media sites make “it easier for the powerless to collaborate, coördinate, and give voice to their concern,” but if they were not around, the cause would still be very much alive (Gladwell).

Now, I would not agree with everything Gladwell stated about the impact of social media on movements. In Brandzel’s article in The Nation, he points out many areas of interest, such as strong ties verses weak ties, where Gladwell seems to miss the change social media has on interpersonal relationships; Gladwell underestimates the strength of the ties people create and nurture with the help of social media sites. Nevertheless, it almost furthers the idea that social media does not add much more to movements besides acting as another tool for communication.

Even with this technology, sometimes the message still gets mixed up. Occupy Wall Street’s call to action, posted on their Tumblr and Blogger, is very well-written, but what is the movement really protesting? The four-page-long letter to the world continues to state that there is injustice in America, but it never directly highlights actual, specific instances of injustice or reasons people should take part in the movement. Without a strong message, no one will know what to support, and in effect, nothing will change. Today, that is exactly what has happened. Everyone heard about the movement, but no one knows for what they are fighting, not even the movement’s spokespeople.

Personally, I first heard about the Occupy Wall Street Movement by word of mouth and continued to retrieve information about it through the news and through conversations with knowledgeable people. After exploring through different social media sites, I can still say that I have gained a clearer and more in-depth message about the movement through those pre-social-media techniques than I have on any social media site, including the movement’s official sites. I am an artifact showing that social media is indeed just a tool of the cause, and not an innovation.