CMS.860: Intro to Civic Media | Week 2: Networked Social Movements

CMS.860: Intro to Civic Media
Week 2:  Networked Social Movements



·       Alicia Garza, “A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter movement”

·       Castells, M. 2007. “Communication, power and counter-power in the network society.” International Journal of Communication 1(1):238–266.

·       Costanza-Chock, S. Mic Check! Media Cultures and the Occupy Movement.

·       R. Kelly Garrett (2006): Protest in an Information Society: a review of literature on social movements and new ICTs, Information, Communication & Society, 9:02, 202-224.


Sasha’s class this week focused on ‘networked social movements’ and we focused on outlining some social movement and media definitions and exploring these in regard to the Occupy movement.


As such, Sasha began the class with a video from the Occupy movement. The video illustrates the ‘People’s Mic’ technique, where members of the crowd repeat what the speaker is saying in order to replicate a loud speaker without technology. Sasha states that he chose to begin within this clip as it shows embodied techniques of amplification within media ecology, the feat itself being recorded and shared within a trans-media environment, through high-quality footage on TV networks and shared across online broadcast platforms.


Starting with some definitions, Sasha outlines media practices as “things that people do with the media”, (Couldry, 2004).


The media ecology is characterized by the political economy of media system; the technical affordances of the current media and the structural privileging or marginalization of voices.


Social movement media culture is defined as the set of tools, skills, practices, and norms that social movement participants use to create, circulate, curate and amplify movement media across platforms.

Sasha raises the problematic of using “culture” as a loaded term.


Transmedia mobilization draws from Henry Jenkins’ concept of transmedia. It suggests the systematic dispersal of socialmovement narrative across multiple media platforms, creating a distributed and participatory movement “world”, with multiple entry points of organising, for the purpose of strengthening movement identity and outcomes. Sasha notes that Jenkins’ concept draws from Marsha Kinder’s development of transmedia ideas in the early 1990s. Kinder’s work focused on gendered consumer identity in children.


Sasha then turns to examine the media ecology of Occupy.

The Occupy movement began in 2011 with a poster in Adbusters. Adbusters famously use advertising repertoires to critique advertising and consumer culture. The poster emerged at the height of the Arab Spring and attempted to capitalize on the imagination and energy of that movement. On September 10th, hacktivist group ‘Anonymous’ puts out a video that calls for support at Wall Street. The video promoted the idea of mass occupation as a tactic of protest. The input of Anonymous created a new level of visibility for the Occupy movement, due to their circulation. Later, a video surfaces of police strategies including kettling and pepper spray, further increasing visibility of the movement, particularly a video of two, white women being attacked by police. In October, there’s an arrest on Brooklyn bridge which sparks mass media coverage.


Sasha shows us an illustration of the media ecology using ‘Page1X’, which shows the bidirectional interaction between printed press front pages and social media attention. Spikes of attention in both the printed press and social media show that visibility correlates to “media events”, or substantive occurrences on the ground. This includes the crack-down on encampments in November. Despite LA and Boston remaining until the end of the year, news spikes occur when the camps are displaced.


This analysis of Occupy shows the media ecology as a national and trans-national conversation, using both the self-produced media of the group and external coverage from the press.


Sasha closes by showing the origins of the Peoples Mic technique, shown at the beginning of class and made famous by OWS, in the WTO 1999 protests. As an act the Peoples Mic acts as a tool for solidarity through identity building, consensus building, and amplification. It shows how activist repertoires are learned and shared between movements, often by actors who themselves support different actions.


As such, when attempting to understand the media practices and media cultures of different social movements, Sasha stresses that it’s not about a platform or a particular tool, but instead the strategies groups use with a variety different tools.


It’s also important in this regard not to erase the voices of those who have founded or contributed a movement. A discussion of the readings focused on Alicia Garza’s “Herstory of #BlackLivesMatter”. Garza’s piece records the erasure of the genesis of the movement, and by extension the voices of the queer black women who founded it, by groups who claim “#AllLivesMatter” or borrow the # without recognition of the movement that initiated it. Garza lays claim to the idea that the movement is specifically for all Black lives, and against the systemic state violence enacted against them.


Speaking of erasure within social movements brought us to Jo Freedman’s concept of the “Tyranny of Structurelessness” – the idea that movements that attempt lateral or horizontal decision-making in fact reify hierarchies and structural inequality. Cathy Devine offers a critical response to this idea in the “Tyranny of Tyranny” in which she advocates that strategic interventions can be made into “structure-less” movements which enable the structural rebalancing of power. Sasha mentions that Occupy made successful interventions of this kind, which put voices normally marginalized to the front of the queue.


As such, the class materials and discussion have illustrated how examinations of social movements must recognize them as complex, active and intertwined with the media ecology. Digging deeper into media practices can allow for more nuanced understandings of a movements media use. For example, Sasha’s survey data of an Occupy working group showed that less than 10% had recently used IRC channels. However, personal experience had taught him that the core media groups of the Occupy movement were utilizing IRC to disperse and communicate information. Who that 10% is, and what they’re using the IRC for, then become important questions that are fundamental to understanding the movement. As the class closes Sasha stresses that it’s important to understand these connections and strategies instead of taking a platform-centric approach.