Erika Thorkelson, a 31-year-old ESL teacher living in Vancouver, was one of the 4,000 people who gathered in the city earlier this month to lend their voices to the Occupy movement.
A Facebook conversation with a friend in Ireland encouraged her to show up to join the people gathered around the Vancouver Art Gallery on October 15.
Her friend was involved in Occupy Dame Street, an Occupy Wall Street support movement in Dublin.
“I like to read other peoples’ streams to find out what’s going on in the world” she said of Facebook.
Erika was one of many spurred to action by the messages they read and shared on social media.
Occupy Vancouver organizers planned for two weeks using Facebook and Twitter before meeting in person.
Experts say this kind of global coordination was only recently made possible through the use of social media tools.
Occupy Wall Street had been planned for months online using social media tools, and groups around the world used social media to plan support demonstrations.
Hash tag #OccupyVancouver
Many at the protest on Saturday said they’d heard about the event online. They followed Occupy Wall Street using social media sources and turned to those sources for information on Occupy Vancouver.
[pullquote]You used to have to go out and find information about things, now when people post, it’s there for you to see.[/pullquote]Twitter users keep an eye on events using the has tag #OccupyVancouver and can receive updates from organizers by following @OccupyVancouver, which has 3,651 followers subscribing to their messages.
For demonstrators, like 22-year-old Sonya William, the Occupy movement’s presence on the streets and online are inseparable.
“You know it as the Occupy Wall Street hash tag, and not on its own,” she said.
Organizers also turned to Facebook to help plan the events. The group “Occupy Vancouver” has 3,166.
Justine Turner and her friends were among those at the rally. She said social media was “hugely” important for spreading information about the movement.
“You used to have to go out and find information about things, now when people post, it’s there for you to see. You can just glance at it, or you can choose to investigate further.”
She said she often hears feedback from friends on Facebook thanking her for sharing stories they had no other exposure to.
Social media connects movement globally
Twitter and Facebook push your posts and messages into the news feeds of those you are networked with. The posts then get shared again to those networked with the viewer.
This sharing happens instantly and increases the viewership of each post exponentially.
Twitter users hash tag messages grouping them together to be read as a discussion. All new messages sent by anyone using the hash tag will be added to the discussion automatically.
Media scholar and UBC professor of Journalism Taylor Owen pointed to the importance of social media for creating and connecting a geographically scattered movement.
“Until recently a movement with so many nodes wouldn’t have been effective. Social media allowed these nodes to work as a collective,” he said.
Social media’s use in social movements came into the news this year as protesters in the Arab world used sites like Twitter to discuss and organize demonstrations.
In places where dissenting discussion is not possible in public, organizing using social media may be the only choice. In Vancouver social media allowed planners to act fast and keep thousands up to date with movement news.