Facebook is changing the way America revolts.
Users of the social networking site are coming together in massive numbers to share Occupation-related news, debates, and event details. Aside from some 160,000 members in the Occupy Wall Street fan page, hundreds of thousands more have joined the pages of respective local cities.
In addition to fans, Facebook also tracks “people that are talking about this”, which records status updates and wall posts across the network. On many of the Occupy pages, this number even exceeds the number of fans.
At minimum, over a million people are actively using Facebook to participate in the movement.
Members use the Discussions feature on city pages to organize their protests, discuss philosophical differences, and talk strategy. Discourse is often heated and bordering on vitriolic, yet a quick scan of almost any page will reveal an impassioned citizenry enagaged in a startling depth of thought. Some are even providing focus to what critics have called a disorganized set of demands.
“End corporate personhood,” begins a poster on the Occupy Together page. “And change the corporate structure so that they are no longer legally mandated to maximize short-term profit…start holding the individuals in the company responsible for their crimes instead of just fining the company. Sound like a good start to a solution?”
While the free-for-all nature of posts and comments may seem like mayhem, many posts demonstrate actual give and take conversations, and input that considers what has already been said. It is a level of discourse that many protesters are demanding on Wall Street and Capitol Hill.
Moreover, sharp, insightful criticism from posters often reads similar to the expert opinion often provided by major media news outlets, such as CNN and Fox.
“Corporate taxing and regulation on Wall St. have been major tenants of every election for the past decade (at least),” writes one recent poly-sci college grad. “The reason OWS protesters are “saying something” now is because the last few graduating college classes became fed up that college wasn’t free. It’s caught on so rapidly because the message of sticking it to “the man” is as popular as Christmas/puppies/candy.”
That comment garnered 27 “likes.”
Though the Occupy protests spawned from the Canadian group AdSense, and have since been supported by a variety of grassroots organizations, there is no one clear leader. The movement operates largely as a collective. Heather Gautney, an expert with the Washington Post, sums up their guiding mantra in four words.
“We are all leaders.”
The “official” Facebook pages disavow direct representation of the organization, but rather seem to provide forum to a hive mind to iron out its differences before presenting a unified front to the world. Thus far, this headless democracy within a democracy has succeeded in mobilizing more outspoken individuals to a national cause than any protest since the brief rallies against George W. Bush at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York. That the present united protests come in an age of bitterly divisive politics is all the more remarkable. During the 1960’s Richard Nixon spoke of the “silent majority” that opposed the counterculture. There is no evidence of any such quiescent presence here today.
If there was, Facebook would tell us.
The closest critical reaction that has gained any significant momentum is the Internet satire, Occupy Sesame Street. Its origins are, of course, a Facebook page. As of this writing it has gained over 26,000 fans, and spawned a comic Twitter campaign which frequently relates the struggles of Sesame characters to improve economic conditions.
Some have used the forum as a way to vent frustrations. Before the movement caught on in full force, the most common comments were cynical and condescending.
“I hope city hall is providing free wi fi to the protesters,” one friend updated. “How else will they be applying to jobs all day and updating twitter?”
In fact, it is likely that many discovered about the “occupation” via comments such as these. Recent studies show that individuals are far more likely to include checking Facebook in their morning or evening routine, than they are to read the newspaper or watch the the local news. A quick curious googling of “protest” anytime within the past week would have consequently turned up a host of articles about the Occupy movement.
But unlike broadcast or print media, Facebook is directly interactive. It selects its own stories to “share” from a network of global media choices. In many ways, it is symbolic of the Occupy movement itself: run by individual average citizens, on their own terms, on a national scale of tremendous unification, and without regard to precedent.
Perhaps the most ominous indication that Facebook may have come to rival the influence of traditional media is a status update from the largest Occupy Wall Street fan page.
“Occupy page admins, be weary of the major networks contacting you in order to recruit for their ‘entertainment’ under the guise of supporting the Occupy Wall Street Movement. I’m talking about the Foxes, NBCs, CBS’, ABCs and all the rest of them — they’re all full of shit. Most of these corporations don’t pay taxes! This serves as a warning to the mainstream media — If you try to hijack the movement in the name of profits, you will be boycotted and shamed.”
And the medium through which they express that message? As protesters would surely agree, Facebook has been Occupied from day one.