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#oo activism: uses of Twitter within the Occupy Oakland movement

  1. #oo activism: uses of Twitter within the Occupy Oakland movement Dr. Sky Croeser Curtin University // @scroeser Dr. Tim Highfield Curtin University and Queensland University of Technology // @timhighfield
  2. Introduction How do new media matter? Occupy Oakland background Methodology #oo and Occupy Oakland: overlapping spaces
  3. The important questions ... are precisely how new media matter; how particular new media tools affect emerging forms, patterns, and structures of organization; and how virtual and physical forms of protest and communication are mutually constitutive. - Juris, J. S. (2012). Reflections on #Occupy Everywhere
  4. Occupy Oakland 2009/2010: protests around the shooting of Oscar Grant on the BART system. October 10, 2011: First Occupy site at Oscar Grant/Frank Ogawa Plaza. October 15: around 2,500 people march in support of OO. October 18: additional camp at Snow Park. October 25: Police raids on camps. October 27: Plaza temporarily retaken. October 28: Solidarity march for Tahrir Square. November 2: General Strike. November 10: Kayode Ola Foster fatally shot near the Plaza (unrelated to OO). December 12: Port shutdown.
  5. Cartoons by Susie Cagle, Occupy Oakland's embedded reporter.
  6. Methodology: Quantitative Snapshots of Twitter activity around the #oo hashtag captured using: NodeXL – capture most recent tweets Archivist – live archival of tweets Data collected at intervals between 29 January and 6 March 2012; intention of project not to provide a comprehensive, continuous analysis of all #oo activity, but to identify different uses of Twitter over time within the movement Here focus on 10-13 February 2012
  7. Methodology: Quantitative Data processed using Gawk scripts for large Twitter datasets (Bruns & Burgess, 2011) Extract salient details from tweets: Hashtags URLs @mentions/retweets Map Twitter user networks through #oo tweets using Gephi and NodeXL
  8. #oo – 10-13 Feb Large group of users, densely interconnected – but does not demonstrate variations around different themes/hashtags – whether users/connections are repeated or unique to particular debates 9360 tweets 2432 nodes 5807 edges Degree range 3+ 741 nodes, 3817 edges
  9. #oo + #ftp – 10-13 Feb #ftp – march occurring during this period against police actions. Users central to overall #oo network also prominent here, accounts covering march live in tweets or livestreaming footage. 1659 tweets 453 nodes 1166 edges
  10. #oo + #ows – 10-13 Feb Users including Occupy Wall Street as well as Oakland in tweets form a much less dense network – clustering around different Occupy accounts (e.g. Occupy Oregon, Chicago, Portland). 810 tweets 260 nodes 419 edges
  11. Twitter ethics Publicly accessible tweets, but sensitive subject? I have been arrested three times for nothing. For nothing. For exercising my rights as a free citizen in this society. ... I’m not a criminal ... it was only when I started Occupying that I started getting arrested – [interview 1]
  12. Methodology: Qualitative Participant observation: meetings, actions, and in the everyday space of #oo. Thirteen semi-structured interviews ranging from 14 to 45 minutes in length. Material from blog posts and other public spaces in which activists reflected on their experiences and politics.
  13. Limits • Project limited by a suspicion not only of surveillance (including of police informants and provocateurs) but also of academics. • Demonstrates concerns within the movement not only about security risks, but also about the movement being coopted, and about how the movement is portrayed to outsiders.
  14. space // place "The burden of my argument here is not that place is not concrete, grounded, real, but rather that space - global space - is so too." Doreen Massey, Geographies of Responsibility, p. 7
  15. Functions of Twitter use Tactical function through covering Occupy Oakland live on Twitter • Livestreaming marches, tweeting police action • Providing a record of police brutality, sharing details of individual officers harming protesters • Sharing information for other protesters – avoiding kettling, arrests • Requests for support, including bringing water, equipment to specific locations • Sharing legal information
  16. Broader solidarity work (primarily within Occupy) • Calls for financial aid • Jail support for Occupiers • Creation and maintenance of links with other Occupy sites in the U.S. (and overseas) • Hashtags for different Occupy movements used alongside #oo in gathered tweets – make messages visible to a wider group of Twitter users by including multiple hashtags in comments • Gathered data includes tweets not specifically about Occupy Oakland, but which link to this movement by including #oo as one of several Occupy hashtags – and tweets about Occupy Oakland which also make use of hashtags such as #ows, #opdx, #osf
  17. #oo and Occupy elsewhere Most frequently used hashtags in #oo tweets Oakland other Occupy 10-13 Feb 2012 OO 9246 occupysf 392 OWS 4563 OLA 380 osf 2085 occupychi 378 FTP 1670 anonymous 349 occupy 1362 Syria 295 occupyoakland 1345 J28 294 opdx 777 solidarity 260 occupyla 640 OPD 250 greece 513 occupyCAL 235 OCAM 426 occupydc 232
  18. “Egypt and Oakland are like one fist”
  19. “We say like Egypt and Oakland are like one fist because people come from Egypt and they say what I see here is what I saw in Egypt, you guys don’t have it as bad as us but that doesn’t mean you are not going to.” [interview 2] “if you want to overthrow capitalism and create a new future for humanity there are very few islands of strength like right now you can go to Cairo, come to Oakland” [interview 1] “we talked about Egypt and how Cairo and the march of Tahrir Square and I think Twitter has had a huge influence on that there is definitely, I don’t know you would see so much international connection without Twitter” [interview 3]
  20. Engagement with international movements • Links with international movements one of the few times when use of Twitter not positioned as problematic. • Interviews noted the link with Egypt as important for Occupy Oakland participants. • Links with Greece increasingly widespread during first months of 2012. • This is not one-way solidarity; links received too from other international sites, further connecting international activists. • Within tweets, this demonstrates a shift from #oo being specific to Oakland, to the hashtag coinciding with Oakland. • This function of Twitter is perhaps the clearest example of its use as a Castells-like space of flows and borderlessness.
  21. Twitter as a space for debate “I went back and forth on the GA and the forums. When it turned for me, and I think for a lot of people is when it stared getting into the conversation about violence versus non-violence. Which just is this giant pain in the ass for Oakland. I just personally think that it is a useless debate...people are just going to do what they want to do and everyone should back the fuck off and accept that people are gonna do what they want to do. ... it was stupid, just stupid, and it took so much time and energy it was really frustrating. ... and yeah, then the GA voted down the idea of having a progressive stack which I really liked.” [interview 3] “This was the Achilles' heel, if there was one, for the Occupy movement in North America” [interview 1]
  22. Twitter as a space for debate • Twitter overcomes the shortcomings of the General Assembly (GA) model • Seen as taking too long, repeatedly rehashing debates, passing repeated resolutions which achieved very little. • However, Twitter is also seen as particularly prone to conflict (through the 140 character limit and non-F2F contact) • Twitter denigated as not seen as “authentic” – armchair activists. • Arguments about legitimate participants in the debate; place is an important factor in the construction of difference. • Repeated calls for people to talk F2F rather than on Twitter, demonstrate their commitment to physical presence
  23. Airing grievances/trolling • While the physical place of Occupy Oakland is seen as more authentic, it is also a space in which some people cannot participate. • Lack of anonymity, exposure to potential physical threats. • Some participants (ex-participants, critics) then use Twitter so that they can engage in criticism. • Social media then transcend the limitations of the physical place. • Sense of physical insecurity, opportunity to be anonymous. • Twitter is not entirely unfettered, though; users actively trolling the #oo hashtag and individuals.
  24. Twitter is most important as a way to “holding space...” hold the space of Occupy Oakland when the police shut down the physical presence. “You can wake up people as much as you want but you have to give them a place to go to. So I think it is important that we always have a presence, so when someone is brave enough to step forwards someone else is there to say I’m here you can come talk to me and come see what is going on.” [interview 2]
  25. Conclusion Twitter use at Occupy Oakland is shaped by the particularities of the movement, particularly the area's radical history and the intense police repression which activists face. Activists move between the place of Occupy Oakland and the space of #oo, making use of the affordances of each where possible, constrained in each case.