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Occupy Online: Facebook and the Spread of Occupy Wall Street

- October 24, 2011

This is a guest post from sociologists Neal Caren and Sarah Gaby of UNC-Chapel Hill.  The paper they are discussing is available here.

While Occupy Wall Street has received most of its attention for its sustained public displays of numbers and commitment in New York City and many other locations, the movement also has an impressive online infrastructure. In addition to individual websites, multiple Twitter hashtags and dozens of Livestreams, more than 400 Facebook pages have been established in support of various US Occupy mobilizations. In order to begin to understand how activists and their supporters are using Facebook, we have been creating an archive of all the posts and comments shared on these pages since the movement began. In our working paper, we detail the data we have collected, including trends by location and major categories of posts; here we highlight some of the basic trends we have identified. The data here includes information collected up until October 17th.

A total of 911,822 posts or comments had been contributed to occupy related Facebook pages. Daily Occupy activity on Facebook peaked on October 11th with 64,410 posts. On the day when 129 people associated with Occupy Boston were arrested, 20,912 people contributed to 64,410 posts or comments on 352 Occupy related pages.

More than 400 US Occupation related Facebook pages have been established. The largest of these is the page associated with the original Wall Street Occupation. More than 40,000 individuals have contributed over 200,000 posts or comments to this page. Of the 50 largest Facebook pages in terms of users, 43 of them are associated with specific local occupations. The largest of the local Occupy Facebook is Occupy Boston, with almost 8,000 users.

Most Occupation pages were started between September 23th and October 5th. Only a handful of pages were created in the first few days of the Wall Street Occupation. This number jumped on September 23rd, a date that doubled the total number of Occupation pages. The increase in the number of pages during this time period was likely a combination of the efforts of Occupy Together and Occupy Colleges to facilitate local occupations, combined with the increased media attention that the movement received. Most of the pages starting during this time were designed to spur a local occupation,

A total of 153,056 people have been active on Occupation related Facebook sites. This number counts only those who have contributed to a page, either by posting or through a comment, and does not count those who have only “liked” or “shared” a page or post. This includes 55,150 individuals active on Occupy Wall Street related pages; 23,641 on national pages; 5,989 on state or regional pages, and 99,664 on local pages.

Before September 28th, a majority of new users posted on the Occupy Wall Street page. Since then, two-thirds have been first observed active on local pages. There isn’t much overlap between the Wall Street and the non-Wall street folk, as 90% of individuals who became interested enough in a local Occupation to comment on it first became involved in their local sites.

Facebook pages may play less of a role as the movement develops its own online and offline structures, but it has been a mechanism for a large number of people to encounter and interact with other potential supporters in a familiar setting.