Occupying Facebook

November 8, 2011 - #OccupyWallStreet / activism / cyberactivism / cyberculture / cyberenvironmental activism / internet / social network

In “Occupy Online: Facebook and the Spread of Occupy Wall Street,” Caren & Gaby (2011) propose that “Facebook is potentially less relevant to the Occupy movement than to other movements, and is likely to become less relevant as the movement develops.” Although Caren & Gaby call members of Facebook groups online “occupiers” and refer to their activity as “Occupying Facebook” they frame the activity in terms of how Occupy Wall Street is “using Facebook” rather than how the movement exists on Facebook. Arguing that the movement priveleges face-to-face contact, Caren & Gaby list the following ways that OWS uses Facebook:

  • a recruiting tool for bringing in new supporters and getting people to events
  • a medium for compiling and sharing relevant news stories
  • requests for resources
  • a space for telling narratives or retelling the experiences of other movement participants
  • a medium for instant communication between geographically separated groups within the movement
  • a wide range of additional activity

Although this listĀ encompassesĀ most of the activities that occupiers engage in while occupying physical space, the paper frames the activities as dependent on the physical occupation and ignores the creative potential of the occupation in cyberspace. The paper frames the movement as existing in physical space and using online media to spread a message that is primarily produced on the ground in physical occupations. Arguing that the movement is made unique by its “sustained visibility” the paper frames the occupation as “primarily an off-line activity.”

Guest blogging about their paper, the authors write that participation on Facebook serves to “facilitate the creation of local encampments.” This analysis acts to erase the roles of the wide and deep online movement that was responsible for the initial call to occupy Wall Street and that continues to function as an integral part of the core movement. In some cases the online movement is more substantial than the physical occupation. In other cases, online activity is integrated into the occupations day-to-day business in a way that is seamless for participants and invisible to observers who are not participants. An obvious and simple example are the constant exchange of decision-making email discussions that occur between members of the working groups at Occupy Wall Street. Although the physical occupation appears as a non-hierarchical, leaderless movement in the physical performance of the General Assembly and the discourse used by participants – activity online often betrays this notion and reveals a smaller core group of individuals who are engaged in administrative activity behind the scenes. This is true of the working groups that I have been engaged with and the conversations among working group “administrators” that I am regularly witness to.

In the Occupy movement more broadly, many communities that do not have a physical occupation do have an online occupation, and they are “occupying” their nation or city within their occupation of cyberspace. The question remains, how are the online and off-line movements engaging with one another – is there a division? Does the fact that in some locations the occupation is entirely online suggest that the occupation of cyberspace might matter as much as the occupation of physical space?