On September 17th, Wall Street was occupied. It was occupied by the bodies of about 500 protesters. The protests, aimed at the unjust hierarchical distribution of resources, were explicitly modeled after the Arab Spring, utilizing social media and a “leaderless” structure to organize a democratic revolution. Unlike the reality of the Arab Spring, however, protesters were asked to remain peaceful as they occupy downtown Manhattan for months to come. They aim to swell their numbers up to 20,000 or more.

What I find interesting about this, is the strategic emphasis on spontaneity, the romanticizing of the grass roots element, and framing, by organizers, of this event as something of a “social media” revolution. This is interesting because these protests are highly organized–not spontaneous. Organizers even went through a “practice run” before the day of the main event. Moreover, the protests do not stem from a small group of renegade revolutionaries, but are linked to established organizations–especially Adbusters, who launched the call for this protest months in advance. 

Yes, they use social media as a tool to augment the protest (aspiring revolution?). This is clear if we look at the content and activity on twitter for #OccupyWallStreet and #TakeWallStreet. If the protests continue, then certainly social media will play a crucial role in the organization of protesters, the framing of events, and the direction of future actions. However, Twitter (or Facebook, or any other social media platform) is not the seed from which this protest stemmed. This begs the question: why the over-emphasis on social media?

I would argue that social media is emphasized for several reasons:

First, it links domestic protests to the successful revolutions in Arab nations, and so links American protesters to those who fought to overrun oppressive regimes.

Second, it plays on our fantasies of the internet as a public sphere –a space in which all voices are equally heard.

Third, it romanticizes the protests. Social media is the “grass root” of our time, it is the symolic counter-point to ‘The System’ that protesters are fighting against.

Finally, social media makes the experience hyper-real for each protester. By giving and amplifying individual voices, protesters are not just followers of the revolution, they are each revolutionaries. Moreover, as a matter of practice, this status as a revolutionary can be documented and publicized through status updates and tweets that call for action. Protesters can then truly see themselves in this glorified role, as they simultaneously project and come to know themselves through their social media reflections.