New forms of Activism in a Network Society by Michelle O'Brien
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New forms of Activism in a Network Society by Michelle O'Brien



New forms of Activism in a Network Society

New forms of Activism in a Network Society

MJM17 Seminar Presentation
By Michelle O’Brien
Student #10843673



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New forms of Activism in a Network Society by Michelle O'Brien Presentation Transcript

  • 1. New forms of Activism in a Network Society MJM17 Seminar Presentation Michelle O’Brien Student #10843673
  • 2. Presentation Outline1. Definitions of key terms2. The Internet as a tool for mobilisation3. OWS social media use4. Impact of ICTs in offline participation (link between virtual & physical)5. The Network Society as context for modern protest movements6. Conclusion7. Forum questions 2
  • 3. The Internet as a tool for mobilisationOWS Manifesto:“Occupy Wall Street is a leaderless people powered movement for democracy that began in America on September 17 with an encampment in the financial district of New York City. Inspired by the Egyptian Tahrir Square uprising and the Spanish acampadas, we vow to end the monied corruption of our democracy!” Adbusters (, 2011) 3
  • 4. The OWS movement began with a single tweet from Canadian activist group Adbusters on 4 July 2011. Source:!/Adbusters/status/88013043438600192, 2011 4
  • 5. The campaign was followed up a few weeks later with the Charging Bull campaignwhich quickly went viral on the Internet. The image is a public sculpture of a bull nearWall Street, NYC. Possible interpretation is capitalist dynamism of a bull beingcontrolled by Zen-like stillness of a ballerina (Schwartz, 2011). Protesters areemerging from a cloud of tear gas in the background and the text reads “What is ourone demand? #Occupy Wall Street, September 17th, Bring tent”. Source: Adbusters,, 2011 5
  • 6. Memes & culture jammingMany images and symbols have arisen in the political vocabulary of the OWS movement, going viral online as memes. An internet meme is a concept, in forms such as a hyperlink, video, image, hashtag or catchphrase, which spreads quickly via the Internet (Knobel & Lankshear, 2007).The use of culture jamming is also an important tools of activism in a Network Society, spreading “ideas by playfully subverting the familiar ideas captured by popular cultural and commercial memes” (Bennett, 2003:28). New forms of activism often use culture jamming to stage subversion on the Internet and through media channels, for example through virtual ‘sit-in’, hacking, blocking access to official sites and disrupting official information flow (Van Aelst & Walgrave, 2002). 6
  • 7. Example of OWS meme: Mister President, We HOPEYou’re On Our Side Source:, 2011 7
  • 8. Example of OWS meme: #OWSSource:, 2011 8
  • 9. Example of OWS meme: Opening animation for a specialOccupy Wall Street screening, curated by Zero Film FestivalNYC Source: http://, 2011 9
  • 10. Example of OWS meme: This Person Supports the Occupy Movement Source:, 2011 10
  • 11. Example of OWS meme: Occupy Canberra Poster Source: , 2011 11
  • 12. The Internet as a tool for mobilisationOWS uses the Internet as a mobilisation tool to:• Produce frames to signify collective identity and field of action – E.g. publishing a manifesto, principles, policies and collective statements• Build networks – E.g. creation of online ‘groups’ coordinating various aspects of the movements including think tanks, alternate banking, accountability, legal, volunteer services and media• Provide access to resources – E.g. online toolkits and how to guides such as organising a rally to designing an OWS poster• Physically manifest emerging political ideals – E.g. Coordinating rallies, marches, stand-ins and other physical protest actions and eventsExamples of various OWS websites can be seen in the following slides. NYGA (, 2011), Juris (2005), Moussa (2011) 12
  • 13. New York City General Assembly Website Source:, 2011 13
  • 14. Occupy Wall Street Website Homepage Source: , 2011 14
  • 15. Occupy Together Website Homepage Source:, 2011 15
  • 16. The Internet as a tool for mobilisation• These websites are not only political campaign websites, but are also tools for OWSs internal activities, mostly organised around independent working groups within the movement.• Underlying the operations of these online hubs is a horizontal structure that encourages anyone to participate in the movement.• This online presence represents more than the facilitation of the movement; it can be argued that it has also inspired the design and structure of the movement. Rosen (2011) 16
  • 17. The Internet as a tool for mobilisationThe voice of the Occupy movement online, as quoted from the Declaration posted across many of their unofficial websites, has a revolutionary rhetoric. An example can be seen here:“To the people of the world, We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power ... To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal. Join us and make your voices heard!” NYCGA (, 2011)Through this choice of language, it can be claimed the movement is:• focussing on joint/collective action• projecting general ‘change’-oriented goals and claims• promoting non-institutional collective action• aiming to attract supporters not limited to location or specific political stance Moussa, 2011 17
  • 18. Example of NYGA rhetoric: Declaration of the Occupationof New York City Info GraphicSource:, 2011 18
  • 19. OWS Social Media UseFrom early on in the movement, OWS has chosen not to use social media channels as their official communications channels, but instead to rely on tools including:• WordPress• other open-source platforms Rosen (2011)Why?“The movement is so heavily based around the check and balance of corporate power. Relying on sites such as Facebook, they felt, placed them too much under someone elses control... We decided that low- tech communication methods would be best… If we’d used a mass text message, or Twitter, it would have been easy for the police to track down who was doing this.”OWS organiser Jake DeGroot, as quoted by Rosen, 2011Despite this decision, many unofficial OWS social media profiles have proliferated. Examples can be seen in the following slides. 19
  • 20. Occupy Wall Street Twitter Profile Source:, 2011 20
  • 21. Occupy Wall St. Facebook Page Source:, 2011 21
  • 22. We Are the 99% Tumblr Source:, 2011 22
  • 23. OWS Social Media UseThe OWS social media presence is largely decentralised, for example there are multiple Facebook pages and blogs dedicated to the movement rather than single official profiles. The use of Twitter hashtags in the OWS movement is an example of this decentralisation: #ows #occupy #occupytogether #occupywallst #occupywallstreet #sep17 #anonymous #globalrevolution #occupywallstnyc Twitter (, 2011)This decentralisaton of hashtags is a possible reason why the OWS movement is not trending as highly on Twitter as organisers want. This has lead to conspiracy stories that Twitter is censoring the movement, a theory Twitter claims are incorrect (Social Media Collective,, 2011). 23
  • 24. This graph shows the movements of the #occupy hashtag on Twitter on October 13, 2011, theday the owners of Zuccotti park (OWS main location), requested that NYPD clear the park. Thegraph represents over 6000 tweets posted by almost 5000 Twitter users, spreading informationabout the “impeding standoff” between OWS protesters and NYPD. The bigger the cluster, themore important the source in terms of Retweets and mentions by Twitter users. Source: Social Flow (, 2011) 24
  • 25. This report on the use of the #occupy hashtag in Twitter over the past threemonths shows peaks on Oct 10, 2011, the day NYC Mayor Bloombergsuggested that he did not anticipate the removal of demonstrators fromZuccotti Park (OWS main location) and Nov 14, 2011, the day NYPD raidedand cleared the camp. Sources: Occupy Wall Street Website, (, 2011) Trendistic (, 2011) 25
  • 26. OWS Social Media UseUse of social media via mobile technologies is also a valuable communication tool for protest movements such as OWS, providing organisers with tools such as wireless internet and reception/coverage to:• coordinate movements of groups• communicate across diverse protest locations• easily record and disseminate information and documentation of events (e.g. police brutality) Garrett (2006)However, heavy reliance by protest movements on ICTs can be problematic due to the fact that government and corporations often have control over these networks. For example, if activists depend on cell phones to coordinate action and these actions become threatening to the interests of those with power, disrupting or monitoring cell phone service may demobilise protest efforts. An example of this was seen after the UK riots of 2011 when Blackberry assisted police in an investigation into communications between rioters sent through their network. Rosen (2011), Halliday (2011) 26
  • 27. Example of the importance of the dissemination of information through socialmedia in the movement: Occupy Together Poster - Sorry, The Revolution Will NotBe Televised Source: Occupy Together Website (, 2011) 27
  • 28. Example of the OWS live stream, not seen of mainstream media channels:Global Revolution Livestream Website Source: Global Revolution website (, 2011) 28
  • 29. Impact of ICTs in offline participation (link between virtual & physical)There is an intrinsic link between the virtual and physicalelements of the OWS movement – E.g. physical protests are often organised through virtual communications channlsThe distinction between online and offline community isoften exaggerated – Theorists such as Gladwell (2010) argue digital activism is in no way linked with physical participationOnline networks is not a place apart but rather a crucialelement of the protest movement. Online networkscomplement and strengthen offline networks, and viceversa, through the integration of technology intocommunication channels. Spyridakis et al (2009), Juris (2005) 29
  • 30. Example of offline OWS protest projects: Image fromOccupy George Website Source: Occupy George website (, 2011) 30
  • 31. Example of mass offline participation: Screenshot of CCN News Coverage of Physical Occupy Protests - Nov 17, 2011Source: New Economies Tumblr (, 2011) 31
  • 32. Impact of ICTs in offline participationProtest movements such as OWS also actively encourage online contributors to extend their participation to a physical level.For example the slogan of the email discussion list provider Riseup is “Get off the Internet. We’ll see you in the streets.” Rise Up (, 2011) 32
  • 33. Example of encouragement for protesters to move offline: ‚Like‘ Is Not ActionSource: Facebook (, 2011) 33
  • 34. Impact of ICTs in offline participationThe link between the virtual and the physical in modern protest movements usually occurs in the following progression:Step 1: Access to technologyStep 2: Exposure to online networkStep 3: Online participationStep 4: Offline participation Juris (2005)However, even when activists are participating in offline activities, “they often move back and forth between online and offline political activity, using the internet as the protest movements technological architecture” Juris (2005:4). 34
  • 35. The Network Society as context for modern protest movementsThe Network Society provides a conducive environment fororganising modern protest movements.One reason is that protest movements in a Network Society boast ahacker ethic based on the values of “free information, decentralizedcoordination, collaborative learning, peer recognition, and socialservice” Juris (2004:4). Like computer hackers, activist-hackersshare and circulate information through communications networksusing cultural codes and symbols.OWS is not the first protest movement that has used theframework of the Network Society for mobilisation. In the recent2011 Arab Spring protests, Islamic movements benefited greatlyfrom the use of ICTs, given strict government control and mediacensorship. Juris (2004), Moussa (2011) 35
  • 36. The Network Society as context for modern protest movementsThe Network Society not only provides a framework for modern protest movements such as OWS but also represents a model for “creating alternative forms of social, political, and economic organisation” Juris (2005:4). This innovation is possible largely through the technology at the movement’s disposal:“Whereas before, hierarchy would have been assumed in a national happening like Occupy, protesters could look to other models of organizing work. They could look to open source projects or, more simply, the insta-networks that spring up around metastatic information. Networked organization is a useful reality as well as a sort of psychological support structure.” Rosen (2011) 36
  • 37. ConclusionIt can be claimed that power in the Networked Society is shifting away from traditional institutions such as the state, capitalist forms and the mainstream media, towards more disseminated groups, technologies and communications tools.“Power is no longer concentrated in institutions, organisations or symbolic controllers. It is diffused in global networks of wealth, power, information and images” Castells, (2007: 167).This can be seen in the growing power of ICTs as an important tool for new forms of activism. For example on June 16, 2011, in the height of the Arab Spring Revolution, the US government requested that Twitter postpone updates to the service by “highlight*ing] to them that this was an important form of communication” in both external information exchange as well as internal organisation of the movement. Gaffney (2011:1) 37
  • 38. ConclusionThus, the Network Society provides a conducive breeding ground for the rise of modern protest movements. These new forms of activism are intrinsically linked to the growing power of technology in our society.To conclude, a quote from a blogger who views OWS as the birth of a new social, ethical and political form, born of a Network Society:“Born as a phenomena of and by the Internet and social media, chronicled and measured based upon Web-derived metrics and artefacts, I believe we are witnessing the birth and emergence of a new social, ethical and political form in its earliest nascent stage. It will continue to grow, and begin to develop ways of expressing and asserting itself, as an aggregated expression of the will of all those who by participating are its de facto contributors and constituents, which over time shall comprise a global 99%”. Breitbart (, 2011) 38
  • 39. Forum Questions Please select two questions to answer in the Student Central Forum.1. How have ICTs, in particular the Internet, changed the way you personally engage with social and political issues?2. When people participate in activism via social media, do you believe they are doing anything meaningful? Is the line as straightforward as Internet activism and physical activism?3. Select an image from the presentation and examine how its design and message fits within the framework of a Network Society.4. Mattelaart (2003: 23) states that “each new generation revives the ‘redemptive discourse’ of liberating effects of new communication technology, only to be disappointed when old hierarchies of power prove to persist”. This quote shows the paradox between the liberation through ICTs and the over-arching corporate and government control of these technologies. Does this sentiment resonates within OWS movement?5. Are modern protest movements such as OWS an expression of today’s Network Society? In what ways do you think they are related? 39
  • 40. BibliographyAdbusters (2011) [Website]. Retrieved from URL (accessed November 15, 2011), W. L. (2003). New Media Power: The Internet and Global Activism. In Couldry, N & Curran, J. (Eds.) Contesting Media Power: Alternative Media in a Networked World. New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.Breitbart, D. (2011) [Blog post]. Comment in response to A Movement of Numbers: Occupy Wall Street, The Why Axis, November 1, 2011. Retrieved from URL (accessed 15 November 2011), M. (2004) Informationalism, networks, and the network society: a theoretical blueprint. In M.Castells ed., The network society. A cross-cultural perspective, Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 1 – 73. Castells, M. (2000a). The rise of the network society. Second edition. Oxford: Blackwell, 1 - 24. Castells, M. (2000b). End of Millennium, Oxford: Blackwell, 64 – 86. Castells, M. (2000c). Materials for an exploratory theory of the network society. British Journal of Sociology Vol. No. 51 Issue No. 1 (Januar y/March 2000), 5-24. Retrieved from URL (accessed December 2, 2011), S. (2011) *Image+. Mister President, We HOPE You’re On Our Side, Obey Giant, November 21, 2011. Retrieved from URL (accessed November 22, 2011) 40
  • 41. BibliographyGarrett, R. (2006). Protest in an Information Society: A Review of Literature on Social Movements and New ICTs. Information, Communication and Society, 9(2), 202-224. Retrieved from URL (accessed November 15, 2011), K. (2008). The UK Anti-War Movement Online: Uses and Limitations of Internet Technologies for Contemporary Activism. In Gillan, Pickerill & Webster (Eds.) Anti-War Activism: New Media and Protest in the Information Age, Taylor and Francis, ICS. Retrieved from URL (accessed November 15, 2011), M. (2010). Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted, The New Yorker, October 4, 2010. Retrieved from URL (accessed 10 November 2011) Revolution Livestream (2011) [Website]. Retrieved from URL (accessed November 15, 2011), J, S (2005). The new digital media and activist networking within anti- corporate globalisation movement. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 597(1), 189 - 208.Halliday, J. (2011). London riots: BlackBerry to help police probe Messenger looting role, The Guardian, August 8, 2011. Retrieved from URL (accessed December 3, 2011) 41
  • 42. BibliographyKnobel, M., & Lankshear, C. (2007). Online memes, affinities, and cultural production. In M. Knobel & C. Lankshear (Eds.), A New Literacies Sampler (p. 199–227). New York: Peter Lang. Retrievedfrom URL (accessed December 3, 2011), A. (2003). The information society: an introduction, Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 10 - 25.Moussa, M. (2011). The Use of the Internet by Islamic Social Movements in Collective Action: The Case of Justice and Charity. Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture, 8(2), 63 – 92.New York City General Assembly (2011) [Website]. Retrieved from URL (accessed November 15, 2011) George (2011) [Website]. Retrieved from URL (accessed November 22, 2011) Together (2011) [Website]. Retrieved from URL (accessed November 15, 2011) Occupy Wall Street (2011) [Website]. Retrieved from URL(accessed November 15, 2011) Wall St. (2011) [Website]. Occupy Wall St. Facebook profile, Facebook. Retrieved from URL (accessed November 15, 2011) Wall Street (2011) [Website]. Occupy Wall Street Twitter Profile, Twitter. Retrieved from URL (accessed November 15, 2011) Up (2011) [Website]. Rise Up. Retrieved from URL (accessed November 22, 2011) 42
  • 43. BibliographyRosen, R. (2011). How Do You Code a Movement? The Atlantic, 18 November 2011. Retrieved from URL (accessed 22 November 2011), M. (2011). Pre-Occupied: The origins and future of Occupy Wall Street, The New Yorker, November 28, 2011 (Retrieved November 29, 2011) from Media Collective (2011). Can an algorithm be wrong? Twitter Trends, the specter of censorship, and our faith in the algorithmsaround us, Social Media Collective. Retrieved from URL (accessed November 15, 2011) Why Axis (2011) [Website]. A Movement of Numbers: Occupy Wall Street, The Why Axis. Retrieved from URL (accessed November 22, 2011) Dijk, J. (2006). The network society: social aspects of new media, Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 1 - 64.Van Dijk, J. (1991). De Netwerkmaatschappij, Sociale aspecten van nieuwe media, Alphen aan den Rijn; Samsom, 160 – 174. 43
  • 44. Images / VideoAdbusters (2011) [Image]. Charging Bull Poster, Adbusters. Retrieved from URL (accessed November 15, 2011) (2011) [Image]. First Occupy Tweet, Twitter, July 5, 2011. Retrieved from URL (accessed November 22, 2011)!/Adbusters/status/88013043438600192Global Revolution Livestream Website (2011) [Image]. Retrieved from URL (accessed November 15, 2011) & Furlow (2011) [Image]. #OWS Poster, Retrieved from URL (accessed November 15, 2011) ZeroFilm NYC Open (2011) [Video]. Opening animation for Zero Film Festival in NYC, Vimeo, November 18, 2011. Retrieved from URL (accessed November 22, 2011) Economies (2011) [Image]. CNN News Coverage TV Screengrab, Tumblr, November 17, 2011. Retrieved from URL (accessed November 22, 2011) York City General Assembly (2011) [Image]. Declaration of the Occupation of New York City Info Graphic, New York City General Assembly, October 19, 2011. Retrieved from URL (accessedNovember 22, 2011) York City General Assembly (2011) [Image]. Website Homepage, New York City General Assembly. Retrieved from URL (accessed November 15, 2011) Canberra (2011) [Image]. A call to arms poster, Occupy Canberra. Retrieved from URL (accessed November 22, 2011) George (2011) [Image]. Dollar Bill Photograph #1, Occupy George. Retrieved from URL (accessed November 22, 2011) 44
  • 45. Images / VideoOccupy Together (2011) [Image]. Website Homepage, Occupy Together. Retrieved from URL (November 15, 2011) Wall St. (2011) *Image+. “Like” Is Not Action, Facebook. Retrieved from URL (accessed November 15, 2011) Wall Street (2011) [Image]. This Person Supports the Occupy Movement, Facebook. Retrieved from URL (accessed November 15, 2011) Wall St. Facebook (2011) [Image]. Occupy Wall St. Facebook profile, Facebook. Retrieved from URL (accessed November 15, 2011) Wall Street Twitter (2011) [Image]. Occupy Wall Street Twitter Profile, Twitter. Retrieved from URL (accessed November 15, 2011) Wall Street Website (2011) [Image]. Occupy Wall Street Website Homepage, Occupy Wall Street. Retrieved from URL (accessed November 15, 2011) O. (2011) [Image]. Sorry, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised Poster, Occupy Together. Retrievedfrom URL (accessed November 15, 2011) Flow (2011) [Image]. #OccupyWallStreet: origin and spread visualized, Social Flow, October 18, 2011. Retrieved from URL (accessed November 15, 2011) 7120244404/occupywallstreet-origin-and-spread-visualizedTrendistic (2011) [Image]. #occupy Tweet trending graph Aug 28 – Nov 22, 2011, Trendistic. Retrieved from URL (accessed November 22, 2011) Are the 99% (2011) [Image]. We Are the 99% Tumblr Homepage, Tumblr. Retrieved from URL (accessedNovember 22, 2011) 45