After participating in class discussion this week, especially with our pop quiz, I knew that I would end up writing about Occupy Wall Street as a social movement, and particularly about how Facebook and social media have contributed to the cause that has been making national headlines for the last couple months.
For those that don’t know, Occupy Wall Street is a growing movement of protests across the nation where the “99%” are protesting against the richest 1% of the nation, which the movement’s unofficial de facto website claims is “writing the rules of an unfair global economy that is foreclosing on our future” (http://occupywallst.org/about/). Protestors have held signs with everything from “We are the 99%” written on them to absurd sayings and nonsensical quips that have just worked to gather attention for the movement. Even though many would argue that Occupy Wall Street has very few specific goals or just vague demands overall, the movement is mainly protesting for a change to the culture of corrupt power of multinational corporations and giant banks that have concentrated wealth among a very small 1% while millions of others are living in poverty, jobless, or both.
Without any true political leaders within Congress (especially since Congressmen are mostly included in the 1%), the movement has relied on using platforms in the public forum, particularly that of social media. Inspired by the youth revolutions in Egypt and Libya, which utilized Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and tumblr to spread messages, coordinate protests, and fuel the fire behind the movement, Occupy Wall Street has done the same thing. I even remember seeing the first call for Bank Transfer Day some months ago on my own Facebook page — I was invited over a month before I had even heard of Occupy Wall Street.
However, summary aside, Occupy Wall Street as a movement has become the poster child not only for social change during these times, but it is also the poster child for the way that social media is becoming the main vehicle for communicating messages of social change and fueling the fire for the uprisings and rebellions that have led to so much social change in the recent past.
For example, it’s clear that the use of Facebook in Egypt and Libya was instrumental in the overthrow of the governments in those nations. By coordinating widespread communication among the younger, tech-savvy generations, social media acted as a sort of catalyst for the emotions that were residing within so many oppressed citizens of these nations, leading to the culmination, rebellion, and revolutionary movement, as I would classify it, that led to the overthrow of the ruling powers. This success, as suggested by both the wired.com article and Occupy site, has carried over to Occupy Wall Street and its current work, as social media has been instrumental in advancing and developing this social movement.
The use of Facebook, Twitter, and the “We Are the 99 Percent” tumblr has allowed Occupy Wall Street to progress through multiple levels of social movement. According to our textbook by Conley, it could be argued that OWS was in the emergence stage when the first activists founding the movement began expressing discontent with the “1%.” However, I think that without the likes of Facebook and other social media, the movement would’ve had serious trouble getting off its feet for two reasons — 1. the movement was vague enough that it wouldn’t have been able to gain momentum without the easy mode of dissemination available through Facebook and 2. Facebook and social media are now perhaps the most common and easy way to spread information, so almost any movement would be advanced by Facebook during these times. The support Facebook has given to OWS has moved it from emergence to coalescence, since the coordination available through Facebook has led to mobilization of resources and concrete action, which in this case is protesters “occupying” common areas and protesting.
I would argue that Facebook and social media could lead to the routinization or institutionalization of the movement, but unfortunately the methods used by OWS aren’t legitimate enough to stand on their own. Illegal loitering in parks isn’t akin to the sit-in strikes and marches of the Civil Rights Movement, so illegitimacy could undermine the whole movement after awhile.
Nevertheless, OWS ubiquitous nature thanks to the use of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media has brought it to the attention of national media, which I believe was the original intent of the movement. Since so many protestors made vague demands or didn’t even know what they were demanding, but rather only that they weren’t satisfied with the current economy, getting this sort of attention and putting the “1%” might be victory enough, as it might also be for the effectiveness of social media in social movements.