Social Media and Occupy Wall Street

First, consider how the political action we’ve been following at the Occupy Wall Street rallies this semester relates to the organizational power of social media and the internet.  Remember to articulate the difference between a one-to-many and a many-to-many broadcast medium: it will be useful to return to readings from earlier in the semester and refer to Buchanan’s Nexus or Castell’s history of the internet in order to include a working definition of distributed networks and the underlying technology of the internet.  Then, consider Ian Bogost’s, Jane McGonigal’s or Sherry Turkle’s ideas about the importance of play in learning—these might also be useful articles to quote and discuss.

Second, bring some of the big ideas from this course together and try to answer this question: Can we read the recreational use of social networking tools or events like flash mobs as a form of playful practice for political action?  You can use Allan Kaprow’s definition of a Happening to help in this paper. (But remember to note the date of his discussion: 1961 and well before the internet of today!)  You can also use Gabriella Coleman’s articles on Anonymous as great sources to discuss that group as a smaller example of this larger phenomenon.  Think about how Anonymous moved from the more playful (but still serious) protests of Scientology and “pranking” to the more politically and socially charged Occupy Wall Street events happening around the country today.  You might also look at articles on the role of social networks and the internet in Arab Spring revolutions.  Feel free to bring in an outside source for this assignment.


6 responses to “Social Media and Occupy Wall Street

  1. The success of Anonymous would not be possible without the use of social media. Thanks to the availability and widespread use of many-to-many broadcast media, thousands of people can communicate with each other at once to plan an amazing event. This type of communication can culminate in an event such as Occupy Wall Street, where people from all over the country, strangers, can come together to stand up for a common cause. Political events of this magnitude would not have been possible for previous generations when one-to-many broadcast media was all that was widely available. Some may think that nothing of import will occur from the use of social media but movements such as Occupy Wall Street and other events like those of Anonymous should prove them wrong. Current generations are faced with endless possibilities for political action thanks to social media. Now people just have to decide how this power will be used effectively.
    Social media and video games are controversial topics because of doubt about the potential these outlets hold for real life. Social media can be used for more than just gossip and chit-chat, just as video games can have more impact than just providing a fun hobby. Facebook has been used to organize large political events. Video games can prepare people by teaching them new skills. As Ian Bogost describes in his book Persuasive Games, certain games, especially epistemic video games, can help prepare people for real-life situations. Bogost writes that Microsoft Flight Simulator can function “as a game that teaches professional knowledge through ‘performance before competence,’ a concept of pedagogical apprenticeship” (239). Video games can viably be used as preparation for real-life situations. Social media and other many-to-many broadcast media, the internet for example, can certainly be used for organizing powerful political events or at least, playful political practice events. Even small events such as flash mobs still get attention and make a statement.

  2. soon-to-be-wifey

    Social media and the Internet have played a huge role in the advancement of communication in technology. In some media, communication was almost strictly in a one-to-many form, meaning that one person or group was broadcasting information to a larger group or mass of people. One example of this is the hot media of the television. The information was brought to the masses by one person. New media has switched things up in that this is not the only case of presenting information. Cool media such as the Internet have allowed for more participation between sender and receiver and have allowed for there to be more than one sender. With everyone able to send out any information to the world, it has now become a many-to-many broadcasting system.

    We can clearly see this in the structure of the protest and hacker group called Anonymous. Anonymous resists against the hierarchical structure most common to any group in that they do not recognize a single or a group of leaders. They claim to all be their own leaders and all to be leaders of the group. In fact, according to Gabriella Coleman, there have been incidents in which certain individuals have stepped up to speak for the group and have been “killed off,” meaning they were kicked off the Internet Relay Chat (Coleman). In regards to the leadership within Anonymous, Coleman states “participants remind each other with remarkable frequency that one should not behave like a leader, nor seek personal attention to yourself” (Coleman). Each member is thought of as one in a larger group. They are not involved in the group for their own personal gain, but for the best of the group as a whole.

    At one point, Anonymous was more focused on “trolling” which were silly, childish pranks such as “telephone pranking, having many unpaid pizzas sent to the target’s home…splattering personal information, preferably humiliating, all over the Internet” (Coleman). These gags soon became larger protests when the first Occupy event occurred at Wall Street. Since then, over the past two months there have been numerous Occupy happenings all across the nation. Occurrences such as these and flash mobs are a creative new way to go about protesting. Creating groups to stay stationary in one location certainly gets the attention of those you wish to protest, yet so does a sudden group of people who stop what they’re doing all at the same time. A protest is really any event that gets the attention of those around. These two events – occupying and flash mob – get the job done.

  3. First, people had telephones, which allowed for one person to talk to another person. Then there was the radio and the television. But what really started a change for the future was the internet. The internet is a series of distributed networks. Distributed networks are communication networks where there are alternative routings between nodes. All these routings allow for people, near and far, to communicate and communicate to many. Social networking and flash mobs may have started out as “just for fun”, but now, they can be used as playful, yet powerful, tools for political action.
    Social networking is not just used for liking comments and posting statuses anymore. Social networking allows for people all over the world to, metaphorically, come together and express their beliefs and ideas. It even allows for these people to plan actions and actually come together. For example, the massive Egyptian protests, this past January, were powered by Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. Because of social networking, these people could post their ideas, recruit followers, and even plan on how they could make changes.
    Allan Kaprow defines a happening (the flash mob of 1961, more or less) as an event “that, put simply, happens. Though the best of them have a decided impact… they appear to go nowhere and do not make any particular literary point… They exist for a single performance… and are gone forever as new ones take their place” (85). Although Kaprow was way ahead of his time, his definition is a right fit for today’s flash mobs. Flash mobs also are great tools because they are like sound bites: quick, simple, and something people will remember. The video shown in class about the protest on the CEO of Whole Foods is a great example. There was a flash mob in the store; it was a peaceful protest that included dancing, singing, clapping, and even a band. Shoppers came to watch and some even participated. Because of flash mobs, these people were able to make their ideas and beliefs heard.
    While social networking and flash mobs may have started out as playful, they have evolved into powerful tools that can be used for political action. They allow people to communicate with each other and anyone who will listen, to express their ideas and beliefs, to make plans, to set goals for change, to come together, to be heard, and to fight for change.

  4. Political actions and rallies such as those at the Occupy Wall Street would have been unsuccessful, even impossible without the aid of the organizational and provocative power of social media and the internet. Ever since internet has been used to propagate social causes, its political effect has been profound. Internet’s power in just organizing people into a mass is stronger than that of any political, social or other forms of organizations. A lot of revolutionary rallies today are triggered not through political parties, but through facebook. For instance, social media, facebook in particular, has been a large organizing force in the ongoing revolution in Cairo. Social media, therefore, brings the public closer to the cause and its propagators, making the revolution stronger in its impact.
    In the case of Occupy Wall Street too, social media has played an important role in bringing people together to raise their voices against any authority that they are not satisfied with. Today, forms of media that essentially make the people feel like an integral part of the revolution have gained popularity over forms of media that don’t. For instance, Allan Kaprow’s Happening, if taken in a political context, is the perfect example of how people wish the revolutionary movements/rallies to be like. Kaprow’s concept of “eliminating the audience” altogether and “increasing the participation of observer” are the main appeal for people favoring this form of participation in political movements. Similarly, in the present age, many to many communication is favored as opposed to a one to many form, because of the participatory nature of the former one. Ocuupy Wall Street mirrors this form of revolution, because it does not follow a system of hierarchy. Nobody plays a dominating role on the expense of another person(s). People like to know that they have the right to contribute as much as the next person does.
    Networking tools and flash mobs, too, have been an effective medium for affecting political actions. For example, the Occupy Wal-mart protest in Washington D.C had been done in a recreational and playful manner whereby the protesters sang songs in order to make the people aware of the labor exploitation in Wal-mart. These forms of recreational political actions have an effect of drawing more public attention than normal speeches would.Like Kaprow says, there is no longer an audience (like in speeches), but people who actually take part in the protests.

  5. Play in general is known as a beneficial activity. When human beings play, they try out different activities and work on skills that can be applied to real life. Because play is a time for practice and experimentation, it also serves as the starting place for meaningful activities that will take place in the real world. The same is also true for the play that takes place using technology. The recreational use of technology serves as a playground for actions that will later be carried out in the political world. For example, in Cory Doctorow’s novel Little Brother Marcus uses skills that he learned by playing alternate reality games to fight back against the DHS. This pattern of play unintentionally developing skills and resources in technology is very common. Perhaps one of the best examples of this is the group Anonymous. In Gabriella Coleman’s article Anonymous—From the Lulz to Collective Action, Coleman says that Anonymous was “Originally a name used to coordinate Internet pranks, in the winter of 2008 some wings of Anonymous also became political, focusing on protesting the abuses of the Church of Scientology.” (2). Coleman tells of the history and current actions of Anonymous. It becomes very clear that while Anonymous began with play and pranks, they have become a motivated group and participate in the political world. Anonymous’s progress as a group serves as clear reminder of potential of technological play to manifest into valuable political action.
    *In my paper I will also discuss this theory’s relation to video games and Flash mobs

  6. As we all know, Occupy Wall Street has taken the United States by storm, but could the power of technology and media be credited for this great storm? Yes, indeed; without the technology of modern day, the endless rallies, protests, and cries of citizens may not have been heard as quickly and may have even been silenced. Anonymous began as small pranksters, but as the media got involved and grew interested, Anonymous grew larger and more powerful. It soon extended to large cities all around the United States. The citizens that are not involved actively in Anonymous are more than likely to participate in the action at home from the internet, television, or any other social media means.
    In Nexus, Buchanan states: “Both the Internet and the World Wide Web grow by the actions of millions of individuals, all with their own plans and ideas, motivated by economics, religion, or almost anything else you can imagine” (78). With this he suggests that the internet itself holds so much valuable information because of the citizens that contribute it. With the thoughts and ideas, not only the internet, but media exists.

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