Social media has once again proven itself a tool for democracy, which must not face regulation, in light of Saturday’s worldwide Occupy protests.
Agitated students, unemployed and workers organised simultaneous protests across continents in over 900 cities, according to some reports, despite a media black-out which was eventually lifted when the mainstream was forced to pay attention.
Given the global nature of the day, it was with some raised eyebrows observers noticed the BBC’s minimalist coverage until it had to take notice – just one paragraph on the BBC website and a short nod of the head on Radio 4.
It’s quite stunning – the effectiveness of people power – that demonstrations in Madrid were the inspiration for a peaceful call to protest by Canadian magazine AdBusters to occupy Wall Street.
The initial attempt was a damp squib to begin with, but more people joined and the media could no longer ignore it. Now, the OWS movement is important enough for the political parties to either rail against it or attempt to co-opt it for re-elections.
Messages have a way of getting themselves out there. But without a vehicle like broadcast, in the past, word of mouth was an ineffective way to move fluidly with strong organisation. A page in AdBusters would never have reached so many people so quickly, and without the online presence, the media blackout would have been all the more effective.
It could have still happened organically – but it’s hard to imagine over 900 cities joining in, on the same day, without that network of support.
This is why governments want to control the ebb and flow of the internet. Fortunately they are finding it quite difficult, even when they suggest draconian policy.
The grim days of the London riots seem to have changed something in this country’s optimists. As London and elsewhere fell into chaos, people realised that they were, really, the ones in charge.
Power in numbers.
Unfortunately that power was used the wrong way, with a frustrated underclass and opportunists looting and mugging their way through their own neighborhoods. The following days were quite different – as those that hadn’t participated in the riots learned, too, that they had the tools to collectively organise clean-up groups and underpin the positive power behind social action.
While police stood by and watched people’s livelihoods burned to cinders, they took a heavy hand this weekend with peaceful protestors – one photograph doing the rounds on the social networks was a woman with her child, kettled. Another reported on the police physically pushing people on the stairs of St. Pauls.
Equally democratically, Twitter has been awash with critics of the movement – saying that they are not represented in the “99 percent”.
And with free and open social networks come other problems. On Sunday, a Twitter account claiming to be the official handle of the Occupy LSX protest was spouting anti-semitic rhetoric and insulting war veterans. Which does not fit with the message and certainly will not bolster public opinion.
Meanwhile, the official Occupy London Stock Exchange Facebook page claimed its users were briefly barred from posting messages to its wall. It could have been a glitch, but it sounds rather a lot like censorship – dredging up memories of Facebook allegedly downing the Boycott BP page in the wake of the disastrous oil spill last year.
Either way, social networks are proving useful for the disenfranchised supporting the Occupy movement. Which ones are to be trusted, however, is left up to the user.