How social media fueled Occupy Wall Street

The hashtag revolution trickled down one tweet at the time, giving birth to a movement

Technology trends and news by Ane Howard
November 3, 2011
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/211b



The Occupy Wall Street protests have been at the forefront of the news since September, morphing into a global movement that seems to have capture the mind of millions. 

At the G20 Summit in full swing in Cannes this week, there’s a noticeable silence about the topic from President Obama. But the OWS movement has recruited Bill Gates, a surprising Robin Hood tax supporter, among its midst.

"It is very plausible that certain kinds of financial transaction taxes (FTT) could work. I am lending some credibility to that. This money could be well spent and make a difference. An FTT is more possible now than it was a year ago, but it won't be at rates that magically raise gigantic sums of money," Bill Gates said to the Guardian newspaper, just before he presented his idea at the G20, where he was invited to speak.

But regardless of Obama’s silence, leaders from other nations, have spontaneously brought it up as a source of concern, reported Paul Masson from the BBC.

“Everybody I speak to, interview or discuss background with keeps dropping the words 'Occupy Wall Street' into the conversation. In fact if #OWS were a global brand, like the designer apparel shops that line the Rue d ‘Antibes here, it would have a profile to die for among the super-elite,” Masson wrote.

But few of us even know how it came to life. Innocently enough, it started with a blog post by a group called Adbusters.

Duplicating successful calls for action via social media, by protesters in Egypt last February, and earlier in Tunisia, Adbusters first introduced the hashtag #occupyWallStreet, in a July 13 blog post.

For those of you, who don't know what a hashtag is, it is simply the tag symbol (#) used in front of a word, embedded in a message posted on the microblogging service Twitter.

But far from being an instant hit, it slowly trickled down a chain of tweets and retweets, for two months. 

As first reported by the Huffington Post, and with the help of Trendistic, a service that tracks trends on Twitter, and Geistr (a real-time news monitoring service in Alpha phase, available by invitation only), a closer look at that chain of tweets shows that even though the first mention by Adbuster largely went unnoticed, it was strangely enough picked up again by a Costa Rican film producer, named Francisco Guerrero.

His Twitter mention on July 20 linked to a blog post on a site called “Wake Up from Your Slumber”, which repeated the Adbusters message to occupy Wall Street.  This tweet didn’t get much traction either, but a flame, as dim as it was, had been lit.

Guerrero’s post was retweeted twice July 23 by the Spanish user Gurzbo and by “Cindy”, a retired high school chemistry teacher in Long Island, New York, under the tweeter name @gemswinc. 

Her tweet was retweeted by eight people, but then again, not much action.  

Then nearly two weeks later @LazyBookworm, another New Yorker, used the Occupy hashtag, which was retweeted seven times.

Again, not much happened for two weeks, until @LazyBookworm tweeted the hashtag Occupy, on August 5. That tweet was retweeted seven times, largely from a crowd of organic food supporters and poets. The difference this time, was the tweeters were hyper-localised and deeply engrained in their community.

The rising popularity of the movement can be traced back to hyper-local tweeters. Tweeters who focus solely on using twitter and social media to keep an eye on their local community, and often message them with calls to action. These users give their community a level of attentiveness, that not even local papers can beat, and are at the forefront of what is happening in their community.

Not yet a movement, but one tweet at the time, it was gaining momentum.

The first real surge of activity around  #occupywallstreet can be traced back in New York to the Twitter account of @nyctheblog, whose tweets chronicle the city life block-by-block.

With close to 2,000 followers, his account was one of the first heavily followed accounts to mention the protests in mid-September.  The owner of the account has not responded to my tweeted request to identify him/herself with its full name, and his tweets about #occupywallstreet have been taken down.

Trendistic and Geistr first show that the hashtag OccupyWallStreet appears with consistency around September 16, just a little bit before the occupation of lower Manhattan began.

And within 24 hours, Trendistic reports that the hashtag represented nearly 1 of every 500 hashtag used in New York.

From there on, the Occupy movement spread like wildfire across the nation, with a strong base of support coming from Oakland, California, which this past week has seen the most unrest in the country, with multiple arrests of protesters, and accusations of vandalism from the police and police brutality from the protesters. The Oakland Police department has declined my request for a number.

But the movement's popularity  has grown around the world: from Hong Kong to London, from Miami to Fairbanks, from Berlin to Sydney, and Rome.  In Rome, on Oct. 15, the protest even turned violent and a small group of protestors set fire to cars, and directed their anger at banks, breaking some of their windows.

A small light bursts into flames

As with the uprisings last February in Egypt and earlier in Tunisia and more recently in Syria, the "Occupy Movement," would not exist without social media. 

Whether this movement affects our global economy and will be the catalyst for changes in the United States, as it has been in Egypt, and other countries, remains to be seen. 

Someone needs to tell our leaders at the G20 that to act as if it isn’t really happening isn’t going to make the movement disappear.

And back home, what is the latest report from #occupyOakland?

Ben Berruzy (@BenPerrusi) from Brazil tweeted earlier today, that the Oakland port authority is running at half capacity in support of the protesters, arrested Wednesday night.

And there’s a call from the twitter account @OccupyOakland to regroup Thursday evening at 7PM.

The last word goes to Wael Ghonim, the twenty-something former-Google executive who has became a symbol of Egypt’s pro-democracy uprising.  Ghonim is largely credited with sparking the initial unrest with his Facebook page, called the “Egyptian Upheaval, “Revolution 2.0."

At the time of the revolt, he publicly mentioned Mark Zuckerberg as an inspiration. “This revolution started on Facebook,” Ghonim told CNN, last February. And when asked whose repressive regime would be next to fall, he replied: “Ask Facebook."

(big image,ars technica)