NEW YORK—Reminiscent of Arab Spring, social media has been instrumental in rallying the Occupy Wall Street movement. But Facebook, Twitter, and Yahoo have all been accused of blocking the movement in various capacities.
Yahoo users were blocked from sending emails containing the phrase “Occupy Wall Street.” Emails containing the weblink occupywallst.org could not be sent, with a message saying, “suspicious activity has been detected on your account." Yahoo later apologized for having a “false-positive” spam filter in place, and fixed the problem.
Twitter has been accused of removing hashtags #OccupyWallStreet, and #occupywallst from their trending lists—after the topic hit the top spots on the first day of the protests. Hashtags are used on Twitter to identify certain trends. One can enter the term to pull up a list of tweets, or updates, about the topic the hashtag is attached to.
"That’s horrible. That’s outrageous," said Barbara Wien, professor of peace studies at American University in Washington, D.C, about the possibility. "It’s a basic constitutional right; that’s called freedom of speech. It’s a bedrock value in our society, which should never be suppressed."
Facebook users have encountered similar interference in making posts, according to Queens resident Vlad, who helps broadcast a 24/7 live feed from Zucotti Park, the base camp of the protest. The video feed has had more than 20,000 viewers at peak times.
“They censor us all over the place. It’s not news,” he said. “They censor this stuff and we actually don’t care.”
Facebook did not return a request for comment.
Occupy Wall Street as a group is disenchanted with the current state of society and is protesting against issues such as rising unemployment, the gap between the rich and the poor, and special interests influencing the government. They frequently call themselves "The 99 percent," and often chant, "We are the 99 percent. You are the 99 percent," as they march. They have shied away from specifying demands or goals.
"This isn’t just about a single war or corporate greed; it’s about the underlying cultural values,” Wien said. “I sense the young people want something very different culturally.”
Social Media Mobility
The media-savvy protesters have aptly demonstrated their social media prowess. A live video feed, multiple websites, blogs, and social media accounts, fuel related protests nationwide and globally. “It’s instantaneous,” said Vlad, “and because it’s instantaneous, it’s honest. It’s not money-pervaded. The live stream is live; it’s not edited. It’s proof.”
A Kickstarter account had raised $52,503 as of Thursday evening to publish a newspaper. The first edition was published on Oct. 1 and Oct. 6, while a second edition is planned for Saturday.
The instantaneous pictures and videos elicit a huge response from the public.
For instance, at the end of Wednesday’s march, two compelling videos were quickly released. One was of a police officer wielding a baton to force back protesters that had rushed the Wall Street barricades while a bevy of cameras and cell phones are focused in. The other video shows a police officer saying that his “nightstick’s going to get a workout tonight.” There are 736 comments attached to this video, after more than 100,000 views.
The protesters have organized marches twice per day, almost every day for the past two weeks. Last weekend, more than 700 people were arrested after a spillover onto the Brooklyn Bridge roadway.
A march to Foley Square on Wednesday consisted of 5,000 to 10,000 people, witnesses said. The group met with various unions and organizations, then returned to the Financial District. A large portion of the group ended up by a barricade in front of Wall Street on Broadway.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said a group of protesters rushed the barricade and the police standing in front of it. “They wanted to occupy Wall Street. They are going to be met with force when they do that, it’s common sense,” Kelly said in a press conference Thursday.
Mike, a 22-year-old Queens resident, said the group had a meeting in front of the barricades, debating what the next action would be. Some people decided they didn’t want to risk getting arrested, while others wanted to pushed through.
“That’s rational, not mob mentality,” he said. “Legally, we are allowed to walk down Wall Street.”
Protesters that have spoken to The Epoch Times have reiterated that only a small group of police, usually white-shirted officers, have undertaken violent actions.
Likewise, Commissioner Kelly said, “The vast majority of the people who are demonstrating are doing it with a peaceful mind.” He also said there is no legal basis to bar the group from Zucotti Park, a privately-owned plaza that allows public access 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Occupy Wall St. appears set to stay indefinitely—with growing mounds of donated sleeping bags, food, and medicine, and more people joining the cause. Area residents have complained about their presence, mostly about noise throughout the night. After several meetings with Community Board 1, the protesters have decreed quiet hours from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.
They have received support from local politicians, including Councilors Jumaine Williams and Charles Barron, and prominent figures like Russell Simmons, who mostly identify with the political left. Criticism has come from others, mostly conservatives, including presidential candidates Herman Cain and Mitt Romney.
Vlad, the live stream volunteer said, “If we have to move, we’ll move. If we don’t have to move we’ll probably stay, just because we’d rather focus on the business of getting the conversation going than moving.” He explained how a generator was set up with floodlights surrounding it on Wednesday night after hundreds of police amassed outside the park; if police action were taken, protesters would move into the well-lit area for easy live streaming.The group was prepared to relocate and people were throwing ideas out about where to relocate to. “Some people wanted to take Central Park but I don’t think we’re quite there yet,” Vlad said. “But we might get there; if the whole city enters the discussion, we’re probably going to need to need Central Park.”
With reporting by Ivan Pentchoukov and Yi Yang.