the 99% movement’s use of social media
Like many others, I’ve been following the 99% movement in social media, intellectually interested in the use of social technology, and certainly engaged in the cause itself as well (from privileged Norway, certainly part of the 1% globally speaking).
Mike Konczal’s analysis of the constant posts to the We are the 99% Tumblr is an interesting read, and I’m also thinking a useful example for teaching digital methods to students, as I plan to do next semester in DIKULT251. Konczal wrote a script to pull out all the text from the site and analysed the data, picking out key words, ages of the people posting, and more. Here’s an example of a photo posted to the Tumblr:
Konczal’s script provides some pretty graphs, but he also attempts a more theoretical analysis of his findings, noting that the key words he finds are not for “cheap gas, cheaper credit, giant houses, bigger electronics” as some critics have assumed. The 99% posts aren’t even asking for trade unions, shorter work days or meaningful jobs:
Anthropologist David Graeber cites historian Moses Finley, who identified ìthe perennial revolutionary programme of antiquity, cancel debts and redistribute the land, the slogan of a peasantry, not of a working class.î And think through these cases. The overwhelming majority of these statements are actionable demands in the form of (i) free us from the bondage of these debts and (ii) give us a bare minimum to survive on in order to lead decent lives (or, in pre-Industrial terms, give us some land). In Finleyís terms, these are the demands of a peasantry, not a working class. (..) Itís straight out of antiquity ñ free us from the bondage of our debts and give us a basic ability to survive.
Another site I’ve been impressed with is OccupyTogether.org, which has become a hub of organisation that allows people all over the world to find or initiate their own protests. The initiators write that:
when we started this we were merely two designers who couldnít get to NYC to support in person. We saw these solidarity actions forming in other areas and though ìyou know, it would be great to gather this information and make it readily available and easily accessible for everyone!î Little did we know weíd go from listing 4-5 locations in one night to receiving hundreds of emails in a day.
They found that running everything manually through them actually slowed things down too much, and so when Meetup.com offered to help out they happily accepted. Now you can see how the movement is spreading not only across the United States, but across the world – there’s even an event planned in Bergen this Saturday, despite our already having universal health care, free higher education and a solid welfare safety net, which are the elements Konczal, at least, concludes would solve the 99%’s problems.
One of the creators of the 99% Tumblr argues that social media is educating people and that that is what makes the movement possible:
I don’t think this could have been possible without social media to link people to real information on wealth inequality, and to possible solutions that are on the table to help balance the power structure. Every time we go on the web, it is to learn something. Right now Occupy Wall Street is part of an essential education and conversation on wealth inequality so that people can bring their own demands and solutions to the table.
While one should be skeptical about uncritical belief in social media’s ability to save the world, this is an interesting point. Certainly visualisation of data, accessibility of data and easy sharing lets information get no matter whether the mainstream media promote it. Savvy websites like Motherjones provide easily sharable graphics that no doubt both provide them with traffic and the 99% with ammunition:
But perhaps the most important way social media helps this kind of movement is simply that you can see that you’re not alone and that there are other people willing to fight by your side. As Dr Rasha Abdullah says about the revolution in Egypt, there is immense power in seeing that 100,000 other people have signed up for the Facebook event “Revolution”. That way, you can be pretty sure that you won’t be alone when you hit the streets.
I’m going to have to try to learn how to do the sort of data analysis Konczal demonstrates. A method is revealed in a comment to his post (and this commenter claims to have found different results), and I suppose it’s not really very complicated. If I just learn how, right!?
Sorry, but comments from before December 2010 are lost in the database and I've not yet figured out how to display them properly.