Twitter, Live Streaming Create Alternative News Network for Occupy
"You can't evict an idea whose time has come," read one tweet carrying the hashtag #OWS this week.
Less than a second later came a message that "after @MikeBloomberg and the #NYPD raided #ows -- less than one-fifth of the 4,000 books from the peoples library are usable."
Another declared that "Occupy Wall Street Protesters Are Back in Zuccotti Park."
That's just one of the hashtags -- a phrase accompanied by the pound sign that allows Twitter users to quickly identify trending topics of interest -- allowing members of the growing, nationwide Occupy movement to communicate. And more than two months after a tent camp first sprouted in downtown Manhattan's Zuccotti Park to complain about the inequality of American wealth, the tweets still move across the computer screen almost too quickly to read, at speeds usually seen only when a new iPhone comes out.
The hashtag #Occupy gives news about the broader movement with protests in California and elsewhere. "Occupy protesters arrested and cleared from Charleston Park," reads one tweet, while a successor complains, "I lost a child to the Occupy Movement."
Just as social media fueled the mass protests in Cairo and London last summer, it is proving to be a crucial communication and recruitment tool for the fledgling Occupy movement in the U.S., which lacks a defined agenda, a public figurehead or even so much as a post office box. (The URL occupy.com is currently unused, and up for sale.)
The protesters have also relied on Livestream.com for complete coverage of events. The Nov. 15 NYPD crackdown that cleared the park of protesters, and resulted in over 200 arrests, was carried live as well.
"I think a couple of interesting things are happening," said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. "Similarly to what we saw earlier this year during the 'Arab Spring,' OWS participants are leveraging mobile tech to organize themselves and outwit/outflank authorities and police."
During the August London protests, Research In Motion, maker of BlackBerry devices, pledged its cooperation when it became clear that users of its messaging systems were coordinating the increasingly violent protests.
But more revolutionary than texting and tweeting, King said, is the video coverage.
"Live streaming has turned YouTube and other online multimedia sites into what are essentially alternative news channels for OWS," King said. "Conventional political organizations -- ranging from major parties to alternative/fringe groups like the Tea Party -- have largely confined their messaging to traditional news channels, a point that makes their efforts initially appear to have more weight."
Citizen video bloggers, though, change the calculus.
"With increasing numbers of people garnering news/information online, the ability of OWS and other groups to effectively leverage the Web for communications has helped them to avoid being subverted or defined by their opponents," King said.
"Maybe it's time to start calling alternative online news channels the 'Fifth' or, perhaps, 'Virtual,' Estate."
Image credit: iStock/Artist's concept.