Wed, Oct 19, 2011 - Page 7 News List

A single Twitter hashtag started the ‘Occupy’ protest that circled the globe

Reuters, NEW YORK

It all started innocuously enough with a July 13 blog post urging people to #OccupyWallStreet, as though such a thing (Twitter hashtag and all) were possible.

It turns out, with enough momentum and a keen sense of how to use social media, it actually is.

The Occupy Wall Street movement, decentralized and leaderless, has mobilized thousands of people around the world almost exclusively via the Internet. To a large degree through Twitter, and also with platforms like Facebook and Meetup, crowds have connected and gathered.

As with any movement, a spark is needed to start word spreading. SocialFlow, a social media marketing company, did an analysis for Reuters of the history of the Occupy hashtag on Twitter.

The first apparent mention was the July 13 blog post by activist group Adbusters, but the idea was slow to get traction.

The next Twitter mention was on July 20 from a Costa Rican film producer named Francisco Guerrero, linking to a blog post on a site called Wake Up from Your Slumber that reiterated the Adbusters call to action.

Guerrero’s post was retweeted once and then there was silence until two July 23 tweets — one from the Spanish user Gurzbo and one from a retired high school teacher in Long Island, New York, named Cindy, tweeting as gemswinc.

Gurzbo’s post was not passed along, but Cindy’s was, by eight people, including an opponent of the US Federal Reserve, a vegan information rights supporter, an environmentalist and an Alabama-based progressive blogger.

Again, there was relative silence for nearly two weeks, until LazyBookworm tweeted the Occupy hashtag again on Aug. 5. That got seven retweets, largely from organic food supporters and poets.

The notion of Occupy Wall Street was out there, but it was not gaining much attention — until, of course, it suddenly did.

In New York, credit goes to the Twitter account of Newyorkist, whose more than 11,000 tweets chronicle the city in block-by-block detail. Trendistic, which tracks hashtag trends on Twitter, shows that OccupyWallStreet first showed up in any volume around 11pm on Sept. 16, the evening before the occupation of Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park began. Within 24 hours, the tag represented nearly one of every 500 uses of a hashtag.

The first two weeks of the movement were slow, but then a demonstration on the Brooklyn Bridge prompted hundreds of arrests and the spark was ignited.

On Oct. 1, #OccupyBoston started to show up on Twitter. Within a couple of weeks, #OccupyDenver and #OccupySD and others appeared.

The Occupy Wall Street page on Facebook started on Sept. 19 with a YouTube video of the early protests. By Sept. 22, it reached critical mass.

For young activists around the world, who grew up with the Internet and the smartphone, Facebook and Twitter have become crucial in expanding the movement.

“No one owns a [Twitter] hash-tag, it has no leadership, it has no organization, it has no creed but it’s quite appropriate to the architecture of the net. This is a distributed revolt,” said Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor at City University of New York and author of the well-known blog BuzzMachine.

As of Monday afternoon, Facebook listed no fewer than 125 Occupy-related pages, from New York to Tulsa, Oklahoma, and all points in between. About one in every 500 hashtags used on Twitter on Monday, all around the world, was the movement’s own #OWS.

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