How Protests Have Changed During the Era of Social Media on the Example of Occupy Wall Street Movement

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Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction:
  • Public Space:
  • The Necessity for Something So Simple, yet so Intricate to our Society
  • A Change in Culture and the Birth of Social Media:
  • Helpful or Hurtful?
  • Public Space and Protests:
  • Case Study:
  • The Occupy Wall Street Movement
  • Conclusion:


Public space provides the public with a sphere to express their opinions and objections on issues surrounding the government, status quo, and historical events. With a the shrinking of public space becoming a real notion, the public sphere has adapted and moved its outlet to social media. This paper will discuss the movement away from physical land and towards social media within the context of protests and will examine a particular protests, The Occupy Wall Street Movement, as an case study to understand how protests have changed and the new era of social media being used to create a sense of community for protests.

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Space is needed all throughout society in order to perform actions, one specific action that is performed on public space is protesting. Protests occur all over the world in an attempt to stand up to something that many people do not agree with. Historically, these protests have been on public space or gathering areas where many people are, but with a change in the way people interact and the presence of social media, there has been a change in the way protests are conducted and perceived. In the modern age, social media is able to provide groups with an outlet to voice their opinion and this has made it more difficult to conduct a protest on physical land because of the geographical barriers. Social media is changing the way protests occur and protesters are having to adapt the changes and reevaluate the way they express their issues.

Public Space:

The Necessity for Something So Simple, yet so Intricate to our Society

Public space has continually changed throughout the formation of the public sphere. The public sphere can be defined as events and occasions in public that are open to all (Habermas). The public sphere serves as a vector for the people by providing them somewhere to obtain information and discuss issues. In theory, the public sphere can be seen as something beneficial and attainable, but even in the eighteenth century, Habermas explains the difficulty rejecting the bias of private interests and the diminishment of the public sphere being a neutral source for the public to learn and interact. This challenging situation has allowed for many different public spheres to surface. It can be argued that the public sphere should not just be a single sphere, that many shall exist and while there will be overlap, there will be multiple spheres for people to interact with. Habermas blames the changing of the public sphere due to media control and newspaper publication; he explains that the newspapers are the outlets that are being manipulated into writing certain things due to private influence. This statement that media controls the “news” is very true today. Public space has shrunk greatly due to the fact that people do not need to leave their homes to understand what is going on all over the world. Many issues are brought up on the internet and social media, which changes the platform that issues can be discussed. This idea that a change in public space has caused shifts in discussion of issues will be a guiding factor for this paper The size and scope of public space is changing due to a new public sphere.

A Change in Culture and the Birth of Social Media:

Helpful or Hurtful?

The media provides a form of mass communication; meaning that important information can be processed and spread quickly. But the media has snowballed into something that cannot be controlled. The platform for the way people receive their information is much different than it used to be. Within the context of protests, much of the mentality of bringing people together for a common cause is done over the internet. For example, The Occupy Wall Street Movement was able to gain much momentum with the use of twitter, using the hashtag #OCCUPYWALLSTREET (Berger 2016). Efforts to start The Occupy Wall Street Movement failed in the primary stages due to lack of interest and lack of communication. But once those in charge began to use social media as an outlet to plan, the movement begun. For example, the leaders of the movement made call to action videos and posted them throughout various social media sites (Berger 2016). Once the movement began to catch the eyes of many, the physical protest aspect was introduced in Zuccotti Park in New York City.

Public Space and Protests:

With a change in environment for public space, comes a change in the way people express their ideas and challenge the status quo. Protest can be taken from the Latin word protestari meaning forth and testify; a protester is someone who serves as a witness or testify to an event (Protest 2014). Originally protests would congregate in public spaces that large masses of people were known to be in the area and the protest or movement would express their disdain for the issue and it would begin a conversation between the observers. The hope would be that the conversation would spark change or at least an attempt to understand the side of those that are protesting. All of the change was prompted by the protest occurring in a public space. But, as mentioned, public space is diminishing and the need for the physical public sphere is diminishing as well. Urban social movements have begun to originate online and at times only stay within that sphere. There have been movements that have manifested into physical protests. This paper will discuss the Occupy Wall Street Movement which manifested throughout the United States and Europe, but was grounded in New York City. I will discuss the timeline of the protest, how the media played a role in the protest, and the use of public space for the movement. In today’s age, the meaning of protest has changed but also the act of protesting has changed due to different public spheres; the ability to adapt to that and successfully get the movement across has caused protesters to be more creative.

Case Study:

The Occupy Wall Street Movement

The Occupy Wall Street movement began on September 17, 2011 in Liberty Square in the Financial District of New York City. The movement claims to fight back against the corrosive power of big banks and corporations over the democratic process and the role Wall Street played in the economic recession and the fight against the richest 1% of the economy (About). While the movement was grounded in New York City, it spread to 82 countries and blew up on social media. The movement in New York City was centered in Zuccotti Park and lasted for about three months. The location of the protest was vital to its success because of the encampment within the financial district but also the private space allowed for long-term protests. The movement gained support and backing from many journalists, unions, and other media outlets (Occupy Wall Street 2012). The movement spread the word about corporations and big banks and disrupted an industry disrupted many Americans lives in the 2008 financial crisis.


This reading depicts the struggles that The Occupy Wall Street went through in order to protest without being kicked out. Dee mentions that the movement was almost luckier that they were protesting on private space because many of New York City’s parks require permits for protests to occur. While it was not necessarily the perfect scenario, the private company Brookfield, eventually gave the Occupy Movement orders to move out. The need for a permit left many members of the movement angry and frustrated that they could not carry their movement to the places they wanted to be heard. This article will help to tie in the gray area of public space and private space that occurs. While the protesters needed a permit for public space, they had no rights to claim on the private space. It is a struggle between being restricted and following the law.

Occupy Wall Street was able to change the way people viewed public space, because it technically was not public but become viewed as public due to the actions that were occurring there. This article will help provide context for the relationship between the movement and public space. Though the movement is over, the debate over public space is still occurring. In order to show the inner workings of the relationship, there needs to be strong evidence from sources like Habermas but also ones like this that can provide context for the debate over public and private space and protests.

Habermas’ idea of the public sphere will help to guide this paper because he claims that public space is needed to support the public sphere. The public sphere was originally used to share ideas and inform the public of important issues that could be discussed. While the piece had its criticisms, it does justice to the definition of the public sphere and will help to explain the need for public space. Without the public sphere, there begins to be a one sided media outlet and the people are not receiving all the information. This can tie into the need for the “99%” to get their message out about corporate America.

The Kohn piece will help to reiterate the fact that space needs to be accessible, have an element of intersubjectivity, and an element of ownership. She explains that private ownership can be a good thing depending on accessibility and purpose and that encountering those that you do not in your private areas can actually make for a better public space. Public space is not always a park or a street, it can be a hybrid area such as these public private spaces and Kohn’s piece will help to define this based off the three principles she defines.

This piece provides context and background for the changing social movements. It explains the Occupy Wall Street movement which occurred in New York City. The movement used private space for a public cause; this type of movement has been occurring more often due to the lack of public space but also the use of social media and the internet. This paper will provide details on social movements and how they have been able to adapt to change throughout time.

Statistics providing information about the shrinking of public gatherings and protests through the years. Will help to provide information in order to claim that the public sphere it not what it was intended to be and has changed due to many factors. While this is not a reading, it will help back up the fact that public space is diminishing and leaves people with no place to protest without breaking the law.

Mitchell discusses the right to be left alone, which many of the other sources chosen say that one reason that The Occupy Wall Street movement was so successful is because it made people see what they didn’t want to see and didn’t leave them alone in a place where most people ate lunch. This piece will help to guide the reasoning behind the need for protests, while a different scenario, the protests outside abortion clinics will help to provide a stronger argument for the right to protest and the right to express yourself even if it’s not what people want to hear. The lack of public spaces other than the street leave people to get in the way of other people’s space, but is this because they want to or is it because they have nowhere else to go?

This reading will provide evidence for the reasoning behind the need for space and protest. Using Occupy Wall Street as a basis for the explanation, Schmidt uses many different lens to show the fact that space is a necessity for movements to be successful, but with that being said there is also evidence that the resistance from government and police fuels the protest to be more successful since the media is more likely to report on that.

This article provides context for the “public private spaces” that are becoming more popular. It cites that New York calls them POPS (privately owned public spaces) and also cites Zuccotti Park, where The Occupy Wall Street Movement occurred, as one of these places. These spaces are an important aspect to public space because they allow for greater freedom from certain laws, but restrict others. In places where people are used to just enjoying their lunch, there are now protests occurring and movements to speak out about against things; but on the other hand, these places can kick people out that they don’t want on their land without any rhyme or reason. This article will help to serve for the discussion of public and private space and what it all means in terms of protests and where the public can congregate.

Using Occupy Wall Street as an example for a protest that used twitter as its outlet to spread the word of their mission. It is going to be important to not get too focused on social media as the new public sphere, but it is cited often that Occupy Wall Street was able to gain so much attention due to the presence it had on social media. When weaving this into the realm of public space, it can be seen as a new public sphere and a way for people to congregate without needing to be together. This paper will weave in this uniqueness of this protest strategy to explain the make up for the lack of public space the movement was awarded.

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