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Social Media: Social Change Leader of Tomorrow ?

Diamond Yao By Diamond Yao Published on November 27, 2015

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Gathering a huge number of people together is often the first step towards provoking lasting social change; large numbers are empowering. The ability to inspire a large number of people, along with careful organization, are important elements of most successful social movements. In fact, two of the biggest challenges of social movements consist of amassing enough support and of coordinating themselves (Bird, 2015). These goals can be seen as parallel to social media’s objective, which focuses on bringing people together. Social media, being an excellent tool for mobilizing people, has undoubtedly influenced how social movements are approached and will continue to be in the future. 

The Occupy Wall Street protests of 2011 will be used to illustrate the power of social media. After a brief description of the movement, Occupy’s extremely decentralized characteristic will be explored before said characteristic’s benefits are discussed. Social media’s role within this leaderless social movement will finally be discussed. Scholarly journal articles and books of newspaper articles will be used to demonstrate that social networks facilitated this type of leaderless movement and ultimately led to its successful development.

On September 17th 2011, responding to Adbuster's (a Canadian anti-consumerist magazine) call for action, an eclectic group of about 2000 people marched towards Wall Street with the intention of camping there. They were protesting against the generalized disastrous impact of corporate greed on society. However, police turned them away from New York’s financial district, so they settled in Zuccotti Park (Colvin, 2011, p. 13-14). Quickly, they established a kitchen, a welcome table and an aid station using the direct democracy principle of general assembly (principle which will be explained in depth later). As days passed and more people joined in, the movement began to build its identity (Colvin, 2011, p. 14-18). Henry James Ferry’s, a protester, captured this spirit perfectly in his statement to TIME: “The reason I’m here now is to speak for the other 99% of this country that has been denied a seat at the negotiating table […].“ (Colvin, 2011, p. 14-18) The iconic slogan “We Are The 99%” was born around this time (Colvin, 2011, p. 14-18). The movement spread to other cities in the United States where similar encampments could be found. On October 15th 2011, a global “Day of Action” was called for by a parallel movement in Spain protesting against austerity measures. Hundreds of thousands of people in 951 cities around the world took a stand against an unfair economy by marching under banners proclaiming “October 15” and “#GlobalChange” (van Gelder, 2011, p. 21). This massive mobilization, while not instigated by the Occupiers themselves, became touted as “the battle cry of the 99%” (Colvin, 2011, p. 26) worldwide and “the moment Occupy Wall Street emerged on a world stage” (Colvin, 2011, p. 26). Occupy, the movement that started as a small group of people camping in Zuccotti Park, became an extremely influential force internationally.