Upcoming: #oo activism

In October, Dr. Tim Highfield and I will be presenting some of our Occupy Oakland research at the Internet Research 13.0 Conference. We’ve started putting together the paper over the last few weeks (which means that my Tumblr is currently full of useful quotations I’ve found along the way), and have been enjoying the process tremendously. In coming weeks I’ll be sending drafts to interviewees who said they were interested in seeing the project develop to get their feedback, and hopefully within a few months Tim and I will have the full article to share. The abstract for the presentation (co-written with Tim) is here:

#oo activism: Uses of Twitter within the Occupy Oakland movement

Social media have become crucial tools for political activists and protest movements, providing another channel for promoting messages and garnering support. Twitter, in particular, has been identified as a noteworthy medium for protests in countries including Iran and Egypt to receive global attention (Gaffney, 2010; Lotan, Ananny, Gaffney, & boyd, 2011). The Occupy movement, originating with protests in, and the physical occupation of, Wall Street and inspiring similar demonstrations in other U.S. cities and around the world, has been intrinsically linked with social media through location-specific hashtags: #ows for Occupy Wall Street, #occupysf for San Francisco, and so on. While the individual protests have a specific geographical focus – highlighted by the physical occupation of parks, buildings, and other urban areas – Twitter provides a means for these different movements to be linked and promoted through tweets containing multiple hashtags. It also serves as a channel for tactical communications during actions and as a space in which movement debates take place.

In this paper, we undertake a preliminary study of Twitter’s use within the Occupy Oakland movement. We analyse a dataset of public tweets published between 29 January and 15 February 2012 containing the #oo hashtag to identify the ways in which social media are employed within the movement, from promoting events to broadcasting live from marches and meetings. This timeframe is particularly noteworthy because it covers the aftermath of the Move In Day action, an attempt to take over a disused building and turn it into a social centre. The failure of this action in the face of police repression led to intense debate within the movement about strategies and tactics, as well as between participants and observers in Oakland and elsewhere. There were also a number of follow-up actions organised, including solidarity actions for the 409 people arrested at Move In Day. Much of this debate and organising took place on Twitter and was tagged with the #oo hashtag. While this is not the only hashtag used for this specific movement (#occupyoakland is also featured in tweets), #oo’s length makes it a popular choice for protesters faced with only 140 characters with which to write their tweets.

Our analysis of the content of #oo tweets examines how Twitter is used within the movement; as, variably, a means of organisation, communication, broadcasting, or debate, for example. As part of this study, we evaluate how Twitter activity corresponds with events such as rallies, arrests, and meetings, and determine the presence of any sub-groups of Twitter users within the movement focused on particular activities, such as livestreaming and the controversial weekly anti-police rallies. Using methods developed specifically for processing Twitter datasets (Bruns, 2011), we also examine the hashtags, @replies and mentions, and retweets included in the gathered tweets to identify any links with other #occupy movements and movements around the world (including those in Egypt and Syria), and the relationship between Occupy Oakland and local institutions and places. This step allows us to study the connections between a geographically-focused movement such as Occupy Oakland and related, but physically distant, protests taking place concurrently in other cities.

This preliminary study forms part of a wider project exploring the politics of place, investigating how social movements are composed and sustained. In addition to movement-specific data collected from sites such as Twitter, the project also draws on ethnographic research through interviews with activists, and participant observation of the movements’ activities. This research methodology allows us to develop a more accurate and nuanced understanding of how movement activists use Twitter by cross-checking trends in the online data with observations and activists’ own reported use of Twitter.


 Bruns, A. (2011). How Long Is a Tweet? Mapping Dynamic Conversation Networks on Twitter Using Gawk and Gephi. Information, Communication & Society, (January 2012), 1-29. doi:10.1080/1369118X.2011.635214

Gaffney, D. (2010). # iranElection : Quantifying Online Activism. Paper presented at WebSci10. 26 April 2010, Raleigh, NC. Retrieved from http://journal.webscience.org/295

Lotan, G., Ananny, M., Gaffney, D., & boyd, d. (2011). The Revolutions Were Tweeted: Information Flows During the 2011 Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions. International Journal of Communication, 5, 1375-1405.

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