Protest Spurs Online Dialogue on Inequity
By JENNIFER PRESTON
Published: October 8, 2011
What began as a small group of protesters expressing their grievances about economic inequities last month from a park in New York City has evolved into an online conversation that is spreading across the country on social media platforms..
Inspired by the populist message of the group known as Occupy Wall Street, more than 200 Facebook pages and Twitter accounts have sprung up in dozens of cities during the past week, seeking volunteers for local protests and fostering discussion about the group’s concerns.
Some 900 events have been set up on Meetup.com, and blog posts and photographs from all over the country are popping up on the WeArethe99Percent blog on Tumblr from people who see themselves as victims of not just a sagging economy but also economic injustice.
“I don’t want to be rich. I don’t want to live a lavish lifestyle,” wrote a woman on Tumblr, describing herself as a college student worried about the burden of student debt. “I’m worried. I’m scared, thinking about the future shakes me. I hope this works. I really hope this works.”
The online conversation has grown at the same time that street protests have taken place in several other cities last week, including Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington. A Web site, Occupy Together, is trying to aggregate the online conversations and the off-line activities.
“We are not coordinating anything,” said Justin Wedes, 26, a former high school science teacher from Brooklyn who helps manage one of the movement’s main Twitter accounts, . “It is all grass roots. We are just trying to use it to disseminate information, tell stories, ask for donations and to give people a voice.”
To help get the word out about a rally at 3 p.m. Saturday in Washington Square Park, the group turned to its Facebook and Twitter accounts. “If you are one of the 99 percent, this is your meeting,” the Facebook invitation said. Nearly 700 people replied on Facebook saying that they would be there.
More than 1,000 demonstrators arrived at Washington Square Park for the rally, many of them after marching from the encampment they had established three weeks ago in Zuccotti Park, in Lower Manhattan.
During their march, protesters kept to the sidewalks and out of traffic in a purposeful attempt to prevent arrests. Once at Washington Square Park, they held meetings until the early evening, when the crowd dispersed and protesters made their way back to Zuccotti Park, where they were welcomed with loud cheers.
While people in New York are still dominating the conversation on Twitter, an analysis of Twitter data on Friday showed that almost half of the posts were made in other parts of the country, primarily in Los Angeles and San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, as well as Texas, Florida and Oregon, according to Trendrr, a social media analytics firm.
Mark Ghuneim, founder and chief executive officer of Trendrr, said the Twitter conversation was producing an average of 10,000 to 15,000 posts an hour on Friday about Occupy Wall Street, with most people sharing links from news sites, Tumblr, YouTube and Trendsmap.
Washington’s National Air and Space Museum was closed after demonstrators tried to enter the building with signs.
“This is more of a growing conversation than something massive as we have seen from hurricanes and with people passing away,” Mr. Ghuneim said. “The conversation for this has a strong and steady heartbeat that is spreading. We’re seeing the national dialogue morph into pockets of local and topic-based conversation.”
In Egypt, the We Are All Khaled Said Facebook page was started 10 months before the uprising last January to protest police brutality. The page had more than 400,000 members before it was used to help propel protesters into Tahrir Square. Occupy Wall Street’s Facebook page began a few weeks ago and has 138,000 members.
Yet it represents only a sliver of the conversation taking place on Facebook about the group’s anticorporate message. Unlike in Egypt, where people found one another on one Facebook page, geographically based Occupy Facebook pages have cropped up, reflecting the loosely organized approach of the group.
These Occupy pages around the country are being used not only to echo the issues being discussed in New York about jobs, corporate greed and budget cuts, but also to talk about other problems closer to home.
In Tennessee, for example, there is an Occupy Tennessee Facebook page, as well as pages for Occupy Memphis, Occupy Knoxville, Occupy Clarksville, Occupy Chattanooga, Occupy Murfreesboro and Occupy Nashville, which helped get out the word about a lunchtime protest in Nashville’s Legislative Plaza on Friday that drew several hundred protesters with some bearing signs with the movement’s motto: “We are the 99 percent.”
The center of the movement’s media operation is in Zuccotti Park, where several hundred people have been camping since Sept. 17.
On Friday morning, operation central consisted of a few tables and chairs clustered around a generator, with a few volunteers editing video, posting updates for the group’s social media sites on laptops and staffing the live video feed for a channel called Global Revolution on Livestream.com.
On YouTube, at least 10,000 videos tagged “occupy wall street” have been uploaded in the past month. A video showing female protesters being fencing in and sprayed with pepper spray by the police is the most viewed of the protest, according to Matt McLernon, a spokesman for YouTube.
In addition to the videos posted from New York, Mr. McLernon said, videos have also been uploaded from Boston, Seattle, San Antonio and St. Louis, as well as from Oklahoma and Vermont.
Showing that YouTube can be used by both sides, the New York Police Department has uploaded its own videos of the protests on YouTube, including of the massive demonstration at the Brooklyn Bridge on Oct. 1 that led to 700 arrests.
But the group is not relying exclusively on social media platforms or the Internet to deliver its message. The second edition of The Occupied Wall Street Journal, a four-page broadsheet, was published on Saturday.
Al Baker and Anna M. Phillips contributed reporting.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: October 8, 2011
Image: Demonstrators taking part in the Wall Street protests used laptops powered by generators to post updates on social media sites.