prof. e.

Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

Social Media and the OWS Movement

Posted by prof e on October 13, 2011

The Occupy Wall Street movement has been generating a lot of attention from the mainstream media in recent weeks. According to a report in the NYT, media coverage has been increasing as the movement gains strength and spreads to other cities. The proximity of the protestors to the nerve center of the US news industry, just blocks away in NYC, certainly helps. Organizers have also worked hard to create stories that the mainstream media are likely to cover, including orchestrated attempts to obstruct traffic and confront police.

The protestors have demonstrated some media savvy as indicated by a sign held by one protester-“Whoever controls the media, the messages, controls the culture.” They’ve got a website and they even have a print publication devoted to getting their story out. The Occupy Wall Street Journal is being supported  using funds raised by a Kickstarter campaign called Occupy Wall Street Media which has raised more than $75K to date. You can find their first issue on Google Docs here. On the Kickstarter site you can view a 3-minute video that includes sound bites from Michael Moore, a documentary filmmaker who has made a career championing the cause of the working class. Speaking of documentaries, the Academy Award winning doc from 2010, Inside Job, is an eye-opening look at the 2008 crash and subsequent attempts to deal with the financial mess that ensued. If you really want to understand the frustration being directed at Wall Street, big business, and the government this documentary would be a good place to start.

But just like the Arab spring and the Tea Party movements that came before, another factor that has helped the OWS movement gain attention and momentum is the use of social media. According to Jeff Jarvis, professor of journalism and author of the blog BuzzMachine, “#OccupyWallStreet is a hashtag revolt.” Jarvis goes on to explain that, “a hashtag has no owner, no hierarchy, no canon or credo. It is a blank slate onto which anyone may impose his or her frustrations, complaints, demands, wishes, or principles.” Using Facebook and twitter is neither new nor innovative in late 2011, but it is and will be an essential part of any current and future populist movement. The raw power of unfiltered, instantaneous mobile communication cannot be denied. The fact that mainstream media are taking their cues from social media certainly helps. While social media is a powerful tool for coordinating and inspiring participants in a populist movement, the mainstream media brings the movement to the attention of a much larger segment of the population.

In an interesting twist with conspiratorial overtones, some have accused twitter of censoring the OccupyWallStreet hashtag and downplaying the size of the twitter stream that is being generated. This alleged censorship may be the result of a cosy relationship that twitter has with investment banks on Wall Street, according to one report.

It is also worth noting that the OWS movement was instigated by the Adbusters organization out of Vancouver, Canada. Adbusters may be best known for their anti-consumerism and anti-capitalistic positions on advertising and consumption. The Adbusters media foundation is, according to their website, “a global network of artists,  activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age. Our aim is to topple existing power structures and forge a major shift in the way we will live in the 21st century.” The Adbusters organization is also known as sponsor of annual social marketing campaigns like Buy Nothing Day and Digital Detox Week.

Whether the OWS movement has legs and can reach critical mass may become evident on November 5th when, according to the Christian Science Monitor, “consumers are being urged to transfer their bank accounts from large, national financial institutions to community banks and credit unions.” If this movement grows, and hundreds of thousands close out their bank accounts, we’ll know that this is not just a fringe movement of leftists and anarchists.

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19 Responses to “Social Media and the OWS Movement”

  1. Alexander said

    Hi Sam, thanks for writing!

    Your blog topic is a terrific organizing of the OWSer material thus far. I really wish I had the skill and discipline to delineate subject matter the way you do. I truly admire this quality. Much appreciation for considering it a worthy topic for your blog.

    My reference to the OWSer movement as a “frivolous and incoherent hippie rabble” was a summation of all of the early mainstream news soundbites I’ve heard, which started to characterize the peoples and protest pejoratively. Your phrase “fringe movement of leftists and anarchists” is perhaps more of that same thinking? The error is that pundits are looking for some historical reference point for this movement, and I’m not sure that’s smart.

    I believe it’s too early to jump on a narrative bandwagon in describing this movement as having a Liberal, Anarchistic, Communistic, Socialistic, et cetera, bent. The movement may very well be a rejection of Capitalism, more specifically, the current monetary paradigm through which Globalism occurs, but to say that this movement is demanding that our society replace the status quo with one of history’s other defunct societal structures is dismissive and short sighted, as I personally see it.

    For my own perspective, I believe the Liberal class has failed the middle class in this country, miserably, and they need to be thrown out of the political structure on their asses right along with Conservatives and Libertarians. I think all the other “isms” one can name are crap too, and humanity needs to think of something entirely new. No, this OWSer thing is something entirely organic and hardly a fringe movement. Nor is it a phony grassroots movement with billionaire founders and a highly contrived PR campaign strategy behind it. The Tea Party movement was a scheme to corral the legitimate concerns of disenfranchised conservative voters along with the zealotry of wing-nuts and deliver them to voting booths. The OWSer movement has not yet been tainted by marketing and PR schemers with hidden agendas.

    Those who think the OWSer protests have some historical overtones or undertones might simply be tone deaf. Only time will tell, and I haven’t decided whether I’d attach myself to the movement just yet.

    Some other material you might consider as possibly helping to spark this movement might be some of the online films from a guy by the name of Peter Joseph Merola. He’s made a series of pieces, the latest that I know of is called The Zeitgeist: Moving Forward 2011. The full movie can be found on You Tube, but I have a sneaking suspicion you’ve already heard of it. There are two earlier films of the same theme from Merola, but the 2011 piece better summarizes what solutions to current problems Merola suggests. You may have already heard too of a scientist by the name of Jaque Fresco and his Venus Project. If you haven’t already perused the ideas from these two characters, you might want to check out the abundance of You Tube clips regarding them. Merola and Fresco had a recent falling out, but these two characters are surprisingly popular with young people that I’ve met. Incidentally, Merola is a New Yorker, and while I don’t think he’s claimed responsibility for the OWSer origin, he’s attached to it. Check out some of his You Tube radio broadcasts.

    Additionally, there’s a very interesting conspiracy nut named Michael C. Ruppert, who was the subject of another film called Collapse, and you can find it on Netflix if curious. His paranoia surrounds the idea of Peak Oil and it’s impact on global economies. This guy might only be a raving lunatic, but much of what he expresses has been legitimatized to certain extent by well known academic types and scientists. Another film also called Collapse centers on the thoughts of Jared Diamond, a more respected scholarly voice on the subject of resource depletion and such.

    Whether or not Peak Oil and Climate change are legitimate problems or just mythical hoaxes is not my point for mentioning them. These ideas have gained quite a bit of momentum with people looking for deeper explanations of the most prominent issues facing humanity and the economic turmoil of today than are offered by corporate media, and perhaps many within the OWSer movement are responding and acting partly on these ideas.

  2. Dominick Ledezma said

    This write up brings up a host of good points..

    They are backed and financed by no one but themselves. There is no hidden agenda. These people are just sick and tired of being raped financially and lied to by the people who control their financial futures. They speak for not only themselves but for me, you, those cops who are beating and macing them… and everyone else who is still not aware..basically, the 99%, even if you don’t agree with this movement.

    …And while I agree and stand with the #OWS movement Ideologically I must raise a few observations I have made about these so-called revolutionaries…

    -They’ve neglected to mention the Fed, Congress or government subsidies/bailouts that finance wall street greed in their list of culprits.

    -They’ve placed 100% of the blame on corporations.

    -They’ve talked sh*t while continuing to purchase products from said greedy corporations.

    -They’ve talked sh*t while continuing to hold checking/savings accounts with big banks.

    Their hearts are in the right place, but I wonder how many of these protesters will fully embrace non-materialism and a more subdued capitalist society? How many of them will fight off the impending rigid Winter and hold their ground as they have been? How many of them will refuse to sellout when the politicians come calling (and they will come calling) wanting them to fall in line with a particular party?

    They’ve got a huge hill to climb, but I believe in their initial notions, and that is peaceful protest of an unjust reality… One thing they should know going in however is this; the “1%” that they oppose will fight, kill, and die (or hire others to do it for them) for what they view as theirs…. The 99% must be willing to do the same.

  3. Alexander said

    Hey Dominick,

    You’re an informed voice who frequents this blog, but I think you’d be pleased to know that there are voices within the movement who have examined the influence of the Fed on all of the circumstances facing the economy not just here, but everywhere.The world bank, the International Monetary Fund also are complicit to factors entrenching the entire global economy. Multinational corporations, as well as these other entities, have linked all economies, regardless of whether the country of origin is Capitalist, Socialist, Communist, etc. The common denominator is petroleum. The type of continued growth every economy relies upon is unquestionably linked to the availability of CHEAP oil, and other fossil fuels. Oil is less and less cheap, for all the low hanging fruit has been picked, (the milkshake is gone) and demand seems to double annually in the emerging economies of India, China, Dubai, and elsewhere. If we haven’t reached the moment of Peak Oil, we’ve certainly seen the end of the cheap oil era.

    Oil producers must now use bigger straws to “Drill Baby Drill,” fracture (frak) the Earth at ever increasing depths, and double-down on burning “Clean Coal” to sustain the economic structure(s) of the world–and it’s getting expensive!!! Also, competing governments of the world must engage in espionage in foreign lands to justify eventual militarism. Heard about the 100 U.S. troops recently sent to Africa, where they just discovered a new, fairly small oil field? The corporate media doesn’t discuss these influences in any meaninful way. Instead they keep idiots thinking inside the box of Conservatism VS Liberalsm. Stories in the media are about communication strategies, rather than genuine problem solving.

    The thing is that ROI (return on investment) for producing economic fuels is dwindling, so competition for new sources of oil, or whatever is left of the old, is becoming more and more fierce. Food prices are sky rocketing, consumer goods aren’t sedating the middle classes as much, and ALL the politicians are blowing smoke up our a$$es. We’re already in a fierce trade war with China and Russia, and this is why our government, regardless of a Democratic or Republican administration is beating the war drum against Iran — they provide a lot of oil to China. Get ready for World War III if economies callapse any further than they already have. And certainly get ready for more austerity measures here at home.

    WE’RE ALL WHORES to the system, no matter how much we recycle, shop at the mall, and pray for forgiveness on Sundays. The corporate media want to cover the protesters in such a way that pits the people against the people, so be leery of the coverage. Listen to the underground voices instead. Forget about Jon Stewart and Michael Moore and Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck. They all work for the same corporations, or, make money screaming about the same system from which they profit. They’re all full of…………

    You’re absolutely right when you say that Conservatives and Liberals would like to hijack the messages for their own purposes, and this is known by the more articulate members of the movement. You can check out some of the material I recommended in my previous post on this topic, for a start.

    I think this is a real Revolution, but it may be too late. Look for it to get rough

  4. Carl said

    The Occupy Wall Street movement is an extremely touchy subject today as everyone sees it differently. Youtube has been flooded with videos from all sides of the spectrum showing this new craze. Youtube is just one of the big players, the people in this movement have been pushed along thanks to other forms of media all around, even local newspapers that aren’t near the area are reporting on it. It’s true, social media plays a big part today in sharing information (biased or unbiased) around the nation that allows movements and protests to gain much more momentum than they would without it. If it wasn’t for youtube, TV, phones, or internet news, only people near Wall Street would know about this protest and from there it would slowly become more known as people shared the news with each other. The real question is, is it good or bad that word spreads that fast? Today, many internet observers and other social media viewers seem to be more impressionable and seeing everything at once seems to plant ideas in their heads. Instead of thinking for themselves about a subject, they let youtube and many other news sites do the thinking for them.

  5. Alex said

    Carl, have you thought for yourself about any of these issues? If so, please share, otherwise spare us the obvious statements about how fast information moves in the Information Age. And try not to lose yourself in the fugue of phony academic neutrality and the abundance of perspectives floating about the ether.

  6. George Scheaffer said

    Movements like this are only judged by their power in numbers and supporters. Online social sites are a great way to build up this strength and hype, but from this medium you get a lot of people who – chances are – won’t act on anything. This whole bank premise is a fantastic way to prove this movement’s threat level, but if it is really pulled off then what can be done afterwards?

    And although I have heard about the OWS movement, I don’t exaclty know what their objective is. What does it mean to occupy Wall Street?
    Jeff Jarvis’ claim that OWS is a hashtag movement is likely true in that case, as there hasn’t really been a specific description of what they are trying to do.

  7. Al said

    Umm, if all you do watch is one or two mainstream news networks and skim a couple internet articles pertaining to this movement, then you’ll come away with the perpsective on the Occupy movement you’ve exemplified above, George.

    Thank goodness buckets of sand are in no short supply, eh?

  8. Jake Kurtz said

    The Occupy Wall Street Movement may be one of the most important if not the most important event that we will see in our lives. The movement started out small but spread quickly, with millions of Americans protesting in the streets of nearly every major city. But more than that, the movement has gone global, with millions more protestors all across Canada, Europe, and even parts of Asia. Corporations as well as the governments they exert influence over have been over stepping their boundaries for years, but it is coming to a head and the world would like it to change. While the Occupy Wall Street Movement is focused on addressing corporate greed, they may not be aware of all the other implications corporations and governments are making, such as plans by companies including GE, Monsanto, Eugenics, the Rockefeller Foundation and others, but the protest works to combat them just the same. The economic problems are clear and obviously need to be dealt with, but it will not be an easy task when you consider the two parties involved. To me I see it as an opportunity to make drastic changes in the world that have been needed to changed for a long time. This is an opportunity for citizens to retake their power over governments and remind them who’s interests matter.

  9. Evom Tsiegtiez said

    The Occupy movement comes at a time when hardly a sovereign nation ISN’T threatened with financial collapse. If money continues to be treated as it is now, printed and laundered to oblivion, nothing changes. Either the governments of the world will legitimately respond to the grievances of their people, or they won’t. Fake symbolic actions will lose credibility in due time (see Obama’s election and Mubarak’s ousting) and may only be exposed after it’s too late. If examples of history’s dead civilizations with recent happenings in the U.K., Greece, Italy, Egypt, Syria, and so on are any indication, governments rarely genuinely heed cries for significant political change. So what makes the U.S. any different or special?

    The only questions about this movement worth knowing answers for are: Facing Occupiers, will the governments of the world continue to use citizen money to bail one another out as their economies unquestionably fail? Will the people continue to uphold the faulty virtues of every given socioeconomic ideology one can name, and thus accept the inescapably deep austerity impositions that will follow any such bailouts? Here at home, if folks resist further austerity, peaceably or otherwise, will the state police and U.S military be deployed to respond with force? And finally, can ordinary people (a planet of 7 billion hungry mouths) truly adjust and make the drastically radical changes necessary to mitigate the imminent problems we all face?

    In truth, the answers are already known.

  10. Frank Timmons said

    I’m sick of seeing “types” of people being paraded on corporate news to discuss this Occupy protest, such as Michael Moore and Peter Schiff. Many people are familiar with Moore because of his films, which raise a lot of questions worth considering, but Moore has interjected so much of himself, his ego, into the material that he actually detracts credibility from the issues. Moore’s reputation exemplifies the negative symbolism and stereotype of the bleeding-heart Liberal, communist sympathizer, etc. I’m sick of seeing his waggling jowls, and I wonder if he is intellectually honest enough to recognize how his dullard image hurts the movement. Plus, even though some of the points he raises are valid, he doesn’t seem to be able to admit when his assertions are too narrow. Certainly, it’s tempting to argue that Moore’s frumpy appearance is just a superficiality that shouldn’t overshadow the merit of the ideas he’s trying to represent, but this country is so enthralled by symbolism that I think it does matter. I think news producers are fully aware of how to manipulate this imagery too; this is why the same typecast faces and voices are recycled amongst the networks.

    This applies to Peter Schiff too. He’s not as well known in a pop-culture sense, because he just shuffles money in the stockmarket, but he’s attributed the same phony quality of credentialism and expertise as Moore. Schiff is merely a recalcitrant @$$, who symbolizes the capatalist, free market purist that right-wingers love to hear; the type of guy who believes with religious zeal that laissez faire economics is perfect. In other words, Schiff is the guy who never critically questioned Adams Smith’s proclamation that an invisible hand, the hand of God, moves to correct market ills with ethereal omnipotence. Schiff rails against Big Government, which is a legitimate beef, but he too uses narrow interpretations of history and factual cherry picking to support his gripes. Schiff is just a symbolic shill for the opposite end of the spectrum of our political and social discourse.

    These two characters represent the notion of diversity in media.

  11. M. Williamson said

    I will be honest and say I don’t really know much about the OWS movement, but when it comes to things such as this the media and social networks play a huge role. The fact that you can post something that may be going on in an entirely different state or country for that matter in a matter of seconds shows just how pivotal it is to such movements when it comes to informing the world.

  12. Janette McClain said

    I am going to concentrate my reply on the local division of the OWS movement and some of the things heard first hand about the whys and wherefores. First, I do give my support to all citizens who truly feel that they need to protest something like the Wall Street mishaps and what has happened to the American family as a result. Unemployment is horrible, children going without food and clothes because their parents cannot work is horrible and the average American family in so much debt that they will never be able to climb out of the hole.
    But this is what I have also heard first hand down at Acacia Park in the last couple of weeks. We are only here because we know that we will have a place to sleep and food to eat. We know that if we sort-of behave ourselves the cops will leave us alone. We know that if we need a new sleeping bag or tent, that we will get one. We know that if we need clothes for the cold that we will get one. So, let’s just join the bandwagon and agree to all that is said so that we don’t have to work in order to get fed or have a good night’s sleep. We know that donations are pouring in, so much that the money is now in a bank account to pay for food that is not donated. We get our sleeping bags dry cleaning once a week — hey that has never happened before. And all because we joined a group. I am just repeating what was told to me on a chilly November evening at Acacia Park. Incidentally, the tents are all gone now because the city council did not renew the permit to be in Acacia Park. I wonder where everyone went. I hope the media keeps up with the events. Whether I agree or disagree is not the point…..everyone has their own agenda.

  13. Selina Stokes said

    It seems as though the social media that we stay connected to better covers this movement than some news stations do. All news broadcasts are biased in some way so it is hard to get a real idea of what’s going on in the movement and, more importantly, what this movement is really all about. One party or the other could report to the American people their own interpretations of what these protesters are fighting for, but no one can captivate the truth like those who are active in the movement. The social networks that these people use to share and discuss their beliefs are more powerful in connecting the protesters to a vast audience of people who may have any level of acceptance or understanding of the message that protesters are sending than any other media outlet.

  14. Alvin Rhodes said

    Beautifully said, Selina. This movement is the new incarnation of Civic Journalism. The cogs in the wheel who work in Traditional Journalism are dinosaurs at best, complicit demons at worst.

    Great post!

  15. Dustin Yourishin said

    Personally, I can’t side with the Occupy Wall Street movement. I find the whole movement to be a shallow argument. At this point, it seems like people protesting simply for the sake of protesting. The idea of them being “the 99%” is a fallacy in my opinion. Corporations are made up of people too, not just the money stealing robots that this movement and the media like to portray them as. As far as media coverage goes, I’m do not entirely understand why they focus on the OWS movement so much. It is just another pointless movement with no real goal.

  16. Taelor Huddleston said

    my cousin goes to college in boston and she was telling me how it has been crazy in this area. when i talked to her about it she felt was an unecessary protest. i am no to familiar with the whole thing but it does seem like people just like to cause problems for no reason. i know the media is loving all the dram though it gives them something to report about which is good i guess because someday if i am reporting i will want to have a lot to talk about

  17. Viola Vineyard said

    I don’t know a lot about the OWS movement, but I do know one thing, the social media grows and grows each second. And thanks to the social media today people are able to keep others up to date, or literally up to seconds on what is going on during the movement. However let’s think about the movement and what it really is about on our own shall we? Given the right facts we should not let the social media dictate what we should think is going on in the world today.

  18. Justin said

    I really don’t know that much information about the OWS movement. However, I think in this day and age it is easy to get a big story across the country just by using social media sites. I think they did a great job getting their word out about what they are doing by using these social networking sites and I think that because of their effectiveness in this area they have gained a lot of support.

  19. Alexander said

    I find it very telling that college students can’t seem to dig up good information about factors driving ongoing (but cold weather stifled) Wall Street protests. What’s more striking is the fact that adults I speak with in their 40s, 50s, and 60s are even more asleep at the wheel when it comes to discussing where this country is headed economically and socially, and what are appropriate steps for mitigating the potential tumult that could (will) arise from this movement. Pathetically, most of them can tell you all about Facebook being hacked and whether they think Sandusky is a perv, however.

    A brief aside: Bloomberg reporters recently revealed that the Federal Reserve handed out 7.7 trillion dollars in bailouts opposed to the mere pittance of $800 billion for TARP legislation passed in 2008. Just think about the disparity between those numbers for a second.

    Anyhow, for the embarrassingly under-informed, who have no clue why decentralized groups of people are beginning to take to the streets without contrived communication themes, consider these two sublimely rational, apolitical discussions about protest inducing factors buried within the economic news:

    The first video is a data rich, ideas based assessment from a guy name Chris Martenson on how the converging circumstances of energy, economy, and environment will make the next 20 years of modern life look unrecognizable to the entire 20th century. For people with an aversion to math, don’t worry. The only number concept you’ll need to wrestle with is the difference between a linear rate of increase and an exponential one. Before watching this, ask yourself: are economic issues facing this country problems or predicaments? Your answer to that question might change depending on your ability to cope with reality. Further, the questions asked by audience members after the talk are typical of people who think magically and believe someone smart will fix everything with invention. Chances are if your a college student right now, you are in no way being prepared for the type of job market and economy you are facing now. Chances are, if you are an older person watching this, you are in now way prepared to cope with the anger of younger generations who will come to despise you for behaving like ostriches all your voting years.

    Next, consider this video from a man named Steve Keen. This is another calm, thoughtful discussion about economic trends not discussed in usual media. He explains that we’re likely to see dramatic de-inflation and continued contraction of the U.S. economy. Economic growth is little more than a pipe dream when you consider the facts presented by Martenson in the first video along with the notion that we’re actually experiencing the beginning of a long global depression according to Keen; he offers a couple of economic remedies to the concerns of the wider polity but admits the unlikeliness of adoption given our highly dogmatic political climate:

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