Saturday, November 26, 2011

World Changing Ideas: The Occupy Media Strategy

"How can they possibly achieve anything when they look like such a bunch of losers?!?"
Most people rightly observe how easy it is for the mainstream media to make the Occupiers look like some Burning Man hangover.

The whole world understands this. Yet, strangely, everyone I know who is actively following Occupy seems energised by the challenge.

They are energised because they understand that it is the mainstream media's job to make Occupy look like a bunch of losers. And yes, it sure is easy. Just focus on some dreadlocked, pierced types having a drum-in and cherry pick some tales of dirt and depravation. Hey presto! The perfect story to ensure that the 99% feel nothing in common with those unwashed, unemployed, deadbeats who are only camping out for the free food.

So, how can the Occupy Movement respond to such transparent misrepresentation?

Well, it's quite simple really. Ignore it completely and get on with the job at hand. Occupy refuses to use the mainstream media and instead has invented its own social media strategy. This is well documented all over the place, but I want to steer you towards a particularly insightful piece by Alexis Madrigal at the Atlantic:
Occupy Wall Street had a social media strategy from the beginning. They encouraged all protesters to record their experiences with cell phones and cameras and then used that media to drive awareness of the protest in its early days. Since then, a whole network of social media has emerged from Twitter accounts to Facebook pages to wikis. This web is woven together by a media team as well as outsiders who have begun to act as signal amplifiers and filters. A particularly effective outside effort was the WeArethe99Percent tumblr, which presented stories of everyday people who were struggling despite their hard work. 
The Lt John Pike (a.k.a. Pepper Spray Cop) meme is another more recent example of this amplification effect. If you missed it somehow (perhaps because you were watching the mainstream media?) Lt John Pike is the cop responsible for this utterly detestable attack on peacefully protesting students at UC Davis:

Within hours of this incident dozens of videos went viral and were quickly followed by the first "photoshopped" John Pike images such as these:

There are plenty more at - go have a serious belly laugh at the intelligence and humour of your fellow 99%.

More recently, we are seeing a wave of songs starting to appear dedicated to Lt Pike, such as this rather clever number:

Anyway, back to the topic at hand - The fact that you are reading this is testament to how this strategy works. I'm one of the "outsiders" that Alexis describes in the Atlantic article - yet with tens of thousands of others, I donate my time and my tiny piece of the Web to become a "signal amplifier" for the Occupy message. (If you missed it, check my last post for some pointers to "official" Occupy social media and other "citizen media" channels.)

Like far more accomplished outsider Tim Pool, my involvement just happened - my initial thoughts on Occupy were quite abstract, but I now actively and consciously consider myself one of the Occupiers. I try to stay informed and support in any way I can, including with posts like this.

A citizen driven "everyone in" media strategy is incredibly powerful and effectively unstoppable, but it does come with its risks. For example, Naomi Wolf published an article recently that was picked up by the Guardian and went viral on the social media networks. Despite being supportive of Occupy and damning of the political money system, it was factually taken apart by fellow Occupy supporter Josh Holland on AlterNet.

The whole incident understandably sparked some very interesting discussions in Occupy circles and highlights the risk of unnecessary sensationalism. The themes of the discussions were quite predictable...
They can tell lies and spread propaganda, so why shouldn't we?
Media is a dirty business, why shouldn't we fight dirty too?
and, of course... Why are we fighting each other?
These are all valid points, but my 2c is that we shouldn't go down that path because we want to be better than them.

Never mud wrestle with a pig - you'll both get dirty, but the pig will love it.

One of the best characteristics about Occupy is its transparency and openness. Sure, it is used against us at every turn, but every time that happens, it makes us stronger and more righteous.

Occupiers do not need to resort to anything but the facts - The truth is on our side and any hint of sensationalism will be used against us by the mainstream media to undermine the fragile trust that we are building with our fellow 99%ers.

Besides, let's not get carried away yet people - Today, all that we're holding is a match, and make no mistake - we're up against the biggest mofo flamethrower the 1% can buy - It is not yet time to fight fire with fire. Let's keep gently nurturing and feeding our transformative, celebratory bonfire waaaaay up here on our high moral ground.

Before I go, I thought I'd throw in this very clever little pisstake for one more laugh

Please stick around for my thoughts on How The Occupy Movement Will Win and hear about some other aspects of the Occupy strategy that I personally believe are even more difficult to control than its viral social media. 

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