Social Media for Social Good: What role does social media play in creation of and sustainability of social movements? A Social Movement Case Study Examining Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party.


As more of the world becomes connected online, revolutionaries across the globe are being empowered like never before although not all are successful as sustaining the movement the use of information communication technologies (ICT) are critical in developing and executing modern social movements. This paper examines the role social media plays in social movement formation through collective action; and assuming success, in movement sustainability in two social movements: the Occupy Wall Street Movement (OWS) and the Tea Party Movement (TPM). It is my hope that this examination of the OWS and TPM movements in relationship to and in demonstration of Collective Action (CA) will enrich and add to the current body of literature in further understanding sustainability or lack thereof in a social movement orchestrated via social media.

Social Media for Social Good:

What role does social media play in creation of and sustainability of social movements?

A Social Movement Case Study Examining Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party.

Sidney Tarrow defines a social movement as collective challenges [to elites, authorities, other groups or cultural codes] by people with common purposes and solidarity in sustained interactions with elites, opponents and authorities (1998). He specifically distinguishes social movements from political parties and advocacy groups. Collective action (CA) can be defined as all activity of common or shared interest among two or more individuals (Olson, 1971). Olson’s classic work (1971) is set to explain and illustrate how collective failure occurs when individuals pursue self-interest. The argument is based on the assumption that every person individually acts rationally, but if everyone chooses not to act – in respect to individual costs and benefits – no CA would occur (Olson, 1971).

Two prominent movements in the last few years, Occupy Wall Street (OWS), the American anti-capitalist movement, and the Tea Party Movement (TPM), the influential force within the Republican Party have illustrated highly sophisticated methods of collective action without formal channels of communication to support their political and social objectives. Use of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr, blogs and photo sharing sites illustrate the flexibility of ICT platforms in supporting collective action and social movements while the mediums themselves are both inexpensive to operate and instantaneous; multiple messages can be conveyed clearly and consistently over the course of movement evolution.

While journalists covered the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements exhaustively, the body of literature in the academic world is still relatively small in examining outcomes based on these social movements; even smaller in public administration and political science emphasized journals. I seek to investigate and answer the following questions: what role does social media play in social movement formation? And assuming success, in movement sustainability?  It is my hope that this examination of the OWS and TPM movements in relationship to and demonstration of Collective Action Theories will enrich and add to the current body of literature in further understanding sustainability or lack thereof in a social movement orchestrated via social media.

Collective identity and frame alignment were developed from CA theory to demonstrate how individuals communicate to frame or analyze grievances that are part of the collective. While most of these theories and frameworks were developed before the Internet era, it is of interest to use them to assess online assembly through social media for illustrating social media’s impact on social movements.

Information communication technologies (ICT) are critical in developing and executing modern social movements but have mixed outcomes with regard to sustainability. Prolific proponent of the networked society Manuel Castells (2011) describes mass media being displaced by mass self-communication (Deluca, Lawson, & Sun, 2012) in altering the communication model from one-to-one to many-to-many. Social media tends to be decentralized, nonmarket, peer-produced, nonproprietary, open-sourced, commons-based, and provide free or inexpensive access and distribution (Benkler, 2006). In order for a social movement driven by social media to live, or to be an event, the activism must be displayed not only through social media but also have a presence in the world on public display in plain view. As a result of the change in power dynamics between traditional media and social media (new media) with emergence of the Internet, activist groups advocating social change have strained relationships with traditional mainstream media, yet still social movements still rely on mainstream media for legitimacy of actions (Gitlin, 1980; McChesney, 1999).

Theories of Social Movements and Social Media

Theories of Social Movements Examined

Regarding the importance of social movements in general, particularly in a new media society, Tarrow (1998) reminds us that as shown in the daily news cycle the notion of social movements, which he defines as “collective challenges, based on common purposes and social solidarities, in sustained interaction with elites, opponents, and authorities” performing “sequences of contentious politics that are based on underlying social networks and resonant collective action frames, and which develop the capacity to maintain sustained challenges against powerful opponents” (Tarrow 1998, p. 2). Sustaining this activity however, defines the social movement. Tarrow (1998) maintains four characteristics or what he calls prerequisites of sustainable social movements: 1) political opportunities, 2) diffuse social networks, 3) familiar forms of collective action, and 4) cultural frames that can resonate throughout a population.

A grievance in of itself cannot create a movement as there are “free riders” who cannot be excluded from obtaining the benefits of a collective good once the good has been produced and then has little incentive to be a voluntary contributor to attainment of that good (Olson, 1971 and Ostrom, 1990. To Tarrow, social movements are “collective challenges, based on common purposes and social solidarities, in sustained interaction with elites, opponents, and authorities.” Riots and other flashes in the pan aren’t a social movement–it isn’t a movement unless it is “sustained” and above all is triggered by the ebb and flow of political struggle” (Tarrow 1998, p. 16).

The dynamic of cycles of contention taking aim at the essence of political opportunity, is a powerful one, Tarrow discusses, as information spreads about the susceptibility of a polity to challenge, additional activists and also “ordinary people” may “begin to test the limits of social control (1998, p. 24). Wherein, the success of one movement generates or at least contributes to greater opportunity for other movements. When the resulting “cycles of contention” spread to an extreme, revolution may occur. “The difference between movement cycles and revolutions is that, in the latter, multiple centers of sovereignty are created, turning the conflict between challengers and members of the polity into a struggle for power” (Tarrow 1998, p. 25).

Multifactored models of social movement formation is advanced, resources are emphasized, organization is critical to the movement, and political opportunities must exist in addition to an existing or consistent grievances build into social institutions, and that movements form because of long-term changes in resources, organization of members, and opportunities present for collective action (Jenkins, 1983). While Tarrow builds a stronger case for the “sudden” nature of revolutions and social movement in acquisition of resource, I think the duration of the grievance or the history of the grievance is of lesser significance than is the political opportunity in this case for mobilization of actors.

The nature of these episodes, while similar, is not beyond empirical explanation; as identified in Smelser (1962), interdeterminacy is not an explanation for collective action. Agitation by a minority against a majority in the name of a generalized belief is the very core of social movements, revolutions and what Smelser calls norm-oriented movement where actors attempt to affect change with social movement at the epicenter. Norm-oriented movements are a precursor for “collective outburst” (aka revolutions) and general social movements in Smelser’s opinion. Tarrow and later authors pull out the complexities of the forms in which these take and sustain within.

Tarrow demonstrates (1998) that political alliances and processes help shape success and failure of social movements, while Jenkins (1983) argues that formal organization is not incompatible in creating a social movement however he wouldn’t agree that it is the most important scalable variable needed to issue success to the movement. It stands to mention, particularly in OWS and TMP cases illustrated in this paper that it at minimum does aid in the efficacy of social movement sustainability. Their impact on Tarrow is noted, formal organization is not incompatible in the creation of social movements and obvious for their impact on collective action (Olson, 1971 and Ostrom, 1990) wherein rational choice and eyes on greater good are well supported in OWS and TPM.

Movements are dynamic and hard to control-because they are a loose association of individuals. Internally, the movement cannot control its participants. Externally, political opportunities and constraints continue to shift (Tarrow 1998, p. 23) which impacts the social movement in its life cycle. As most theorists would agree, from early works to current, movements are highly unstable and while subject to mass activism can also suffer from mass apathy ending the mobilization of efforts.

In Power in Movement (1998) Tarrow illustrates the cyclical history of social movements, in the form of the protest cycle. He also convincingly demonstrates how movements can affect various spheres of life, such as personal lives, policy reforms and political culture. This concept of grievances must be explained and a revolution while seemingly spontaneous is actually quite systematic as mentioned by Kornhauser (1959) in The Politics of Mass Society; collective behavior explains that remote or abstract experiences or symbols do not create for terms of mass behavior; only when that concern is localized or personalized can we speak of mass behavior or activism in society; the change in context brings about the willingness to change in the society as a collective sparking a revolution or social movement (Kornhauser, 1959).

Complexity is perhaps the one thing that social movement theorists DO agree on. After that, opinions and reports clash on this topic from one theorist to another. Traditionally, the problem has been explaining individual participation in social movements. Jenkins (1983) presents that traditional theories which commonly share the assumptions that movement participation was relatively rare, discontents were transitory, movement and institutionalized action were sharply distinct, and movement actors were arational if not outright irrational. Social movements are traditionally seen as having roots in personal change and institutional change (Jenkins, 1983). Olson (1971) attempted to make the case for economy based on the actions of an individual (rational choice). In The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups, Olson provides an important analysis of the problems of public good cost based on activity of a single actor and his/her collaboration. The economic theory of collective action is concerned with the provision of public goods (and other collective consumption) through the collaboration of two or more individuals, and the impact of externalities on group behavior. It is more commonly referred to as “public choice” and can be seen as an influencer to the study of social movements through resource mobilization theory (RMT).

Olson (1971) made the highly controversial claim that individual rational choice leads to situations where individuals with more resources will carry a higher burden in the provision of the public good than poorer ones with poorer individuals left with little choice but to opt for the free rider strategy [attempt to benefit from the public good without contributing to its provision] this may also encourage the under-production (inefficient production) of the public good. Where Olson describes this as a “free rider” scenario (taken negatively) perhaps others would point to the collective action as rational choice (i.e. groups, associations, unions) in the power of the disadvantaged (many) allowing them to participate in democracy by collaboration or pooling or mobilization of resources, not just benefiting from the actions without representation or participation.

To qualify as a social movement mass society, classified by an abundance of mass movements, differentiation is present coupling social movements within societies creating social movements. Mass behavior is demonstrated at varying levels in societies based on the enabling or stifling of behavior from above and below the social hierarchy as demonstrated in the society. The nature of these episodes Smelser (1962) discussed in Theory of Collective Behavior and are not as mysterious or spontaneous as they may seem but rather dependent on the variable combinations present similar to McAdam, McCarthy, and Zald’s (2008a) take on emerging synthesis of social movements and revolutions taking into account the range, variety, and diversity of mobilizing structures formal, informal and hybrid in social movement organizations (SMOs); wherein the level of mobilization and framing are essential to understanding movement.

While Olson earlier made the highly controversial claim that individual rational choice leads to situations where individuals with more resources will carry a higher burden in the provision of the public good than poorer ones with poorer individuals left with little choice but to opt for the free rider strategy this may also encourage the under-production (inefficient production) of the public good. Early scholars explain motivation where collective action represents rational choice (i.e. groups, associations, unions) in the power of the disadvantaged (many) allowing them to participate in democracy by collaboration or pooling or mobilization of resources, not just benefiting from the actions without representation or participation-all for one (common good).

Social Media Definitions

Social media, such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, have created shared spaces where people can search, find, and share information across not only time and space boundaries, but also social and cultural boundaries. Because social media can increase the perceived social and public equity, users are more likely to engage in active participation. Marginalized peoples and communities are using social media to magnify on-the-ground social movement actions and create collective action. Social media has played an integral part in grassroots communication and participation. While social media creates these opportunities for marginalized populations, it also has barriers and limitations special to the medium.

Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube Platforms in Brief

Twitter like other ICTs has the potential to transfer an array of benefits to a blossoming social movement (Lotan, et al., 2011; Aday, et al., 2010). Among these benefits is the ability to connect people using short messages, instantaneously in a public and transparent way that is easily searchable and categorized via hashtags (#) within the platform.

Facebook has Fan Pages and Groups, popular applications allowing anyone with shared interests to become a ‘fan,’ or join a ‘group,’ and participate in discussion forums and threads. Fan Pages are similar to an individual’s typical profile page, except content is visible to even non-Facebook members. Group pages, in contrast, can control who is or is not invited or accepted to be a member, and unlike an individual’s typical per­sonal profile page, Group pages have an administrator. It doesn’t take long before thousands of Facebook users join these pages (Fieser, 2009). These pages, open to anyone with a Facebook account, include ‘friends’ not only from one’s home country or state, but from throughout the world. Through these Facebook pages, users joined forces, initiating online movements that moved offline oftentimes prompting a series of large-scale protests or other collective action.

YouTube videos provide a popular and flexible venue for online activism. An important advantage of YouTube videos for the purpose of social and political activism: they can be shared easily, quickly, and effectively through a variety of mechanisms, including other forms of social media, email, and print media. A study by Vragara et al., (2013) suggests that social activism in online spaces such as YouTube is not easily defined, but is adapted to suit movement needs—which makes social media a popular and flexible venue for activism but also highlights the challenges for scholars studying such venues.

Introduction of Social Media as an Alternative Free Press

Everyone is a reporter of the news, as it occurs, where they are located. Through citizen journalism using new and social media, activists and NGOs can directly reach their audience, supporting and sometimes even replacing traditional media as information source.  Even better, it permits bypassing the traditional media with their message in real time as an event occurs. Jay Rosen, the founder of Assignment Zero, a project where journalism is run by the public rather than the media, seems to be re-affirming his beliefs about citizen journalism and new media. Rosen suggests that because the lines between the spheres of consensus, legitimate debate and deviance have been blurred, it has complicated things for the practice of journalism in the United States. Journalists have been taught to uphold the journalistic virtues of objectivity and balance as well as the basic American ideologies of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, while rejecting those who challenge these beliefs.

The presence of bloggers and civilian journalists on the Internet threatens to expose the unwillingness of traditional journalists to delve deeper into stories that go against legitimate debate and consensus. Such exposure weakens their authority and makes readers less likely to trust their impartiality when covering stories. By being able to connect with each other and share the stories and accounts, citizen journalists are learning that “the ‘sphere of legitimate debate” as defined by journalists doesn’t match up with their own definition” (Rosen, 2009). In the past there was nowhere for this kind of sentiment to go. Now it collects, solidifies and expresses itself online. Bloggers tap into it to gain a following and serve demand. Rosen has long believed that citizen journalism promotes social democracy.

Occupy used bloggers and Twitter as the main means to spread word of the protest and report real-time what was happening in the field. They also used Livestream channels to broadcast from the protests and tell a different perspective from TVs and newspapers. Occupy folks used blogging as a means to tell in-depth stories from the field, photos to document and illustrate the stories, and podcasting to make the voice of the protesters heard and to amplify the message (Tocchi, 2013). Tea Partiers also used ICTs for collective action in their social movement which started when a CNBC reporter, Rick Santelli unleashed what can only be called a rant against the Obama Administration’s proposal to help homeowners facing foreclosure refinance their mortgages on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in February of 2009. The video of his tantrum taken by an onlooker became a YouTube viral sensation, and a social movement was born. Facebook for TPM became a central organizing point to the degree that an actor within the movement made a Facebook replica network to serve as their own exclusive social hub for TPM-ers only called the Tea Party Community (TPC).

Social media offer opportunities to citizens the world over to come together and share information and ideas, potentially providing “long-term tools that can strengthen civil society and the public sphere” (Shirky, 2011). Not surprisingly, there is growing scholarly interest in the mediation of activism and political campaigning.  However, because of the novelty of the topic, the unique qualities of available data, and the often unwieldy size of data sets – most existing accounts have been limited to analyses of a single case (Vragra et al., 2013; Bennett, Breunig, & Givens, 2008). This makes it difficult to generalize from the findings of any particular study, limiting our ability to build theory about the uses of social media in moments of political activism.

Further, as protest movements grow more diverse, so must our theoretical framework and investigations of the nature of protest movements in online spaces (Earl, 2010; Earl, J. et al., 2010). One important aspect of this potential public sphere is its facilitation of social and political activism. Social media allow activists to reach a substantial portion of the public with their message, enabling a range of tactics beyond appeals to the established media and raising questions of whether traditional social movement theories can adequately explain these protests (Bennett, Breunig, & Givens, 2008).

In classic accounts, the problem of achieving effective coordination within movements was so great as to be central to the structuring of activism (Vragra, 2013). The solution was the creation of bureaucratic organizational forms that could formalize members’ participation and direct their actions (Earl, 2010 and Olson, 1971). The rise of inexpensive, networked digital media with marginal costs of communication approaching zero arguably means major changes for the nature of mobilization and engagement (VanLaer & VanAelst, 2010; Benklery, 2006; Sayne et al., 2010). At the same time, traditional political movements—those linked to candidates or issue campaigns—have responded to opportunities presented by the new media environment by becoming hybrid organizations, centrally managed but enabling a relatively entrepreneurial base (Bimber, Flannagan, & Stohl, 2005).

Simultaneously, broader social changes are also contributing to new activist forms. Residents of “late modern” society find themselves increasingly responsible for elements of life such as economic security, risk management, and identity maintenance that once were delivered by social institutions (Beck, 1999; Bennet, 1998). The result is a new set of tasks on the agendas of late modern citizens that enable the creation and continual maintenance of a personally satisfying sense of self—or “personal identity project” (Reynolds, 2008; Giddens, 1991). These conditions act as consequence to activism as political identities are expressed via lifestyle, consumption choices, and tastes, and thus become highly personalized in nature (Bennet, 1998; Reynolds, 2008). At the extreme of these networked individualized conditions, individual potential collaborators drop in and out of specific mobilizations as they please (Macafee, 2012; Rainie & Wellman, 2011; Wojcieszak & Rojas, 2011) taking their networks, alternative and free media with them.

Social Media in the United States

Social media as a change agent is less and less about the tools of the trade and more about the application and power in these tools to create, maintain or end collective action. Social media on its own is a tactic for supporting, not supplanting, existing strategies it doesn’t often work in a vacuum (Kanalley, 2011). Social media’s role in collective action and social movements is more about smart, passionate people using the best tools they can to bring people together; however we have also seen it really spark something that wouldn’t normally exist in an environment ripe for change. The irony of it all is that the best way to get people away from their computer is through the computer; you can’t organize thousands of people [the way Occupy Wall Street has] without the web (Kanalley, 2011).

These simple tools like Facebook and Twitter — through passionate individuals — build networks of individuals and take action to the streets. Whether it’s the beginning of actual change is debatable and often times difficult to measure the effects but it definitely amplifies efforts for changes of all kinds all over the world. These efforts don’t work, however, with just the power of social media; while it is common for groups to be enthusiastic about ICT, it is also important to utilize mainstream media through primary activist accounts through social media to send the messaging to those other than protestors in order to involve and sustain the social movement.

While it is easy to miss what really affect change in the media circus, interestingly, just as social media content is used for, and drives, business success in the companies Wall Street represents it is also the content and user engagement for collective action success that fuels social movements. “Many individuals, gathering on social networks, getting the attention of mainstream media, with the potential to create social change. It’s all connected in this age of the World Wide Web” (Kanalley, 2011).

Admittedly in some countries there are attempts to control, censor and monitor social media, but at the same time that these attempts are unlikely to be successful in the long run and that social media are long-term tools that can strengthen civil society and the public sphere (Shirky, 2011). The Occupy movement “was born on the Internet, diffused by the Internet, and maintained its presence on the Internet” (Castells, 2012). This is an argument that states that in the OWS movement, Internet communication created street protests, which means that without the Internet there would have been no protests that is not to say that the Internet or ICT created the movement, but rather disbursed the messaging of the movement in which to spur collective action.

Authors Clay Shirky and Malcolm Gladwell are two prominent mainstream, almost popular culture theorists and journalists that specialize and collaborate on the topic of social media mostly taking sides contrary to each other. Clay Shirky’s work Here Comes Everybody (The Power of Organizing without Organizations) and Gladwell’s various publications from Outliers, a discussion of the true blueprint for making the most of human potential to David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants which is a discussion of unconventional success from disadvantaged starting points, various entry points of social movements and change are discussed through the lens of modern communication and communication tools like social media.

Shirky argued in 2008 that the political use of social media ultimately enhances freedom:

“Social tools create what economists would call a positive supply-side shock to the amount of freedom in the world. […] To speak online is to publish, and to publish online is to connect with others. With the arrival of globally accessible publishing, freedom of speech is now freedom of the press and freedom of the press is freedom of assembly” (Shirky 2008, p. 172).

Whereas one assumption in this discourse is that new media have predominantly positive effects, another one is that they bring about radical change:  “Our social tools are dramatically improving our ability to share, cooperate, and act together. As everyone from working biologists to angry air passengers adopts those tools, it is leading to an epochal change“ (Shirky, 2008 p. 304).

Malcolm Gladwell (2010) argued that activists in revolutions and rebellions risk their lives and risk becoming victims of violence conducted by the police or the people their protest is directed at. Taking the courage to face these dangers would require strong social ties and friendships with others in the movement. Activism would involve high risks. “The kind of activism associated with social media isn’t like this at all. The platforms of social media are built around weak ties” (Gladwell 2010, p. 45). Facebook and Twitter activism would only succeed in situations that do not require individual actors “to make a real sacrifice” (Gladwell 2010, p. 47), such as registering in a bone-marrow database or getting back a stolen phone. “The evangelists of social media,” [such as Clay Shirky], “seem to believe that a Facebook friend is the same as a real friend and that signing up for a donor registry in Silicon Valley today is activism in the same sense as sitting at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960” (Gladwell 2010, p. 46). Social media would “make it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have any impact” (Gladwell 2010, 49). Social media “are not a natural enemy of the status quo” and “are well suited to making the existing social order more efficient” (Gladwell 2010, p. 49).

Evgeny Morozov (2009a) speaks in line with Gladwell’s argument of “slacktivism” as:

“feel-good online activism that has zero political or social impact. It gives those who participate in ‘slacktivist’ campaigns an illusion of having a meaningful impact on the world without demanding anything more than joining a Facebook group. […] ’Slacktivism’ is the ideal type of activism for a lazy generation: why bother with sit-ins and the risk of arrest, police brutality, or torture if one can be as loud campaigning in the virtual space?”  (Morozov 2010, p. xiii)

Morozov (2009b) argues that the notion of “Twitter revolution” is based on a belief in cyberutopianism – “a naive belief in the emancipatory nature of online communication that rests on a stubborn refusal to acknowledge its downside” (Morozov, 2009b) that combined with Internet-centrism forms a “techno-deterministic ideology” (Morozov, 2009b).

Jodi Dean (2005) says that slacktivism results in post-politics:

“Busy people can think they are active – the technology will act for them, alleviating their guilt while assuring them that nothing will change too much. […] By sending an e-mail, signing a petition, responding to an article on a blog, people can feel political. And that feeling feeds communicative capitalism insofar as it leaves behind the time-consuming, incremental and risky efforts of politics. […] It is a refusal to take a stand, to venture into the dangerous terrain of politicization” (Dean 2005, p. 70).

In response to this criticism Clay Shirky (2011, p. 29), mentioning naysayers Gladwell and Morozov, acknowledges that the use of social media “does not have a single preordained outcome.” Social media would be “coordinating tools for nearly all of the world’s political movements, just as most of the world’s authoritarian governments (and, alarmingly, an increasing number of democratic ones) are trying to limit access to it” (Shirky 2011, p.29). Shirky admits that there are attempts to control, censor and monitor social media, but argues at the same time that these attempts are unlikely to be successful in the long run and that social media are “long-term tools that can strengthen civil society and the public sphere” (Shirky 2011, p. 29).

Social media would facilitate shared awareness and result in “the dictator’s dilemma”/“the conservative dilemma” (Shirky, 2011):

“The dilemma is created by new media that increase public access to speech or assembly; with the spread of such media, whether photocopiers or Web browsers, a state accustomed to having a monopoly on public speech finds itself called to account for anomalies between its view of events and the public’s. The two responses to the conservative dilemma are censorship and propaganda. But neither of these is as effective a source of control as the enforced silence of the citizens. The state will censor critics or produce propaganda as it needs to, but both of those actions have higher costs than simply not having any critics to silence or reply to in the first place. But if a government were to shut down Internet access or ban cell phones, it would risk radicalizing otherwise pro-regime citizens or harming the economy” (Shirky, 2011 p. 31).

Shirky sees two sides of social media, but argues that the positive side overdetermines the negative one and that in the last instance social media have positive effects on democracy. So although acknowledging contradictions in order to make his argument more complex, Shirky postulates the techno-deterministic equation: social media = more democracy = more freedom. Shirky argues that the slacktivism argument is irrelevant because “the fact that barely committed actors cannot click their way to a better world does not mean that committed actors cannot use social media effectively” (Shirky 2011, p. 30).

Shirky’s “Promise, Tool, Bargain” states that “each success story of using social tools to form groups contained within the book is an example of the complex fusion of ‘a plausible promise, an effective tool, and an acceptable bargain with the users” (2008, p. 260). We can easily connect this model to Olson’s collective action theory.

  • Promise: Why someone would join a group? The first challenge to creating an effective promise is that the claim on the users’ time for a particular activity must be greater than the activity the users are already doing. A second challenge is that social tools be satisfying to the individual user. Shirky (2008, p. 263) suggests three strategies for handling these challenges.
    • Make joining the group easy
    • Create personal value
    • Subdivide the community

The theory of rational action, or Rational Choice Theory (RCT) is used by a large number of social scientists often in partnership with explaining the “why take part” portion of collective behavior. Protest is a kind of collective behavior. Thus, RCT is a principle that can be applied to better connect Shirky’s “promise” to Olson’s theory of collective action or why people want to contribute to public goods.

  • Tool: Overcoming challenges to coordination of the group. A social tool is only as good as the job it is meant for, and it must be a tool that the user actually wants to use. Here Shirky switches focus away from the types of tools to the types of groups (large and small) that the tools are designed to support. Small groups tend to be more tightly knit and conversational than large groups (2008). In the theoretical literature this could be akin to resources and the mobilization of those resources.

The flattening of the globe and the increase access to information increases the visibility of social movements. Revolutions and social movements become as McAdam suggested as an even more popular feature of the political landscape particularly as social movements have a better chance of success in a democracy; however, the globalization of politics provides ample areas for people living in even the strictest governments to provide dominance upon their system of governance under the right set of circumstances (McAdam, 2008).

  • Bargain: What to expect and what is expected of someone who joins the group? Shirky argues that the bargain is the most complex characteristic of the successful forming of groups using social tools, because it is both less explicit than promise and tool, and it requires more input by the user (2008). Here I believe that framing comes into play. Contextual framing refers to conceptual and theoretical perspectives on the manner in which social movement organizations organize, review, communicate, react, and review reality. Framing processes have come to be regarded since the 80’s alongside resource mobilization and political opportunity processes as a central dynamic in understanding the character and course of social movements (Benford & Snow, 2000).

The framing process seems to allow for comparison or explanation of a particular event or social movement to be considered across multiple schools of thought which can provide for multiple conversations to occur about the same social movement in multiple fields in collaboration; additionally, this gives additional insight to social movement which can prove deeply significant to history, culture, and most important to armchair political activists, media coverage. The flexibility of frames allow for variance from theorist to theorist which create certain vulnerabilities in the scientific nature of the framing practice (Benford & Snow, 2000) however, this perceived weakness also operates as strength as framing can be used across a broad range of practices and subject matters and prove to be ideal in attracting communications and media professionals to a political or social movement. Likewise, traditionally framing is and an area where mass media can be brought into the social movement fold with relative ease.

Role of Social Media in Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party Movements

The Role of Social Media in the Occupy Wall Street Movement

Social Media as an Organizational Tool

“Occupy Wall Street is a leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants” (Occupy). In keeping with their tech roots, some Occupy demonstrators attempted to create their own Internet to ensure constant connectivity (Kessler, 2011). Despite their serious ambitions, the protests have spurred a number of humorous Internet memes, including “The Casually Pepper Spray Everything Cop,” after a police officer at UC-Davis walked by a group of students and nonchalantly doused them in the eye-watering spray (Hernandez, 2011).

The latest in American activism — targeting bankers more than governments — began with a blog post in July 2011 (Wasserman, 2011).  Next protesters marched in Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, beginning September 17, 2011 with thousands of them being arrested. While the #OccupyWallStreet (or #OWS) movement has spurred Occupy protests across the U.S., they all take issue with the growing inequity between the very wealthy (the 1%) and the working and middle classes (the 99%) (Wasserman, 2011).

How Social Media Generated Press

OWS reached citizens in general, but also engaged the entire world in a domestic matter. “Search interest for [OWS] jumped ahead of the TPM on September 24, 2011 and hasn’t looked back. In a historical context, when viewing the snapshot of their nascent birth, we can see the peak of OWS has slightly more interest in America than searches for the TPM did during the groups’ peak in 2009” (Parrillo, 2011). Perhaps the most incredible part of OWS media influence was the way that it changed the national conversation despite initial neglect by the mainstream media in the movement’s earlier days. It simply dictated the narrative of the country and occupied US economic conversation entirely framing the conversation in economic inequality and jobs (DeLuca, Lawson, & Sun, 2012).

Tarrow (1998) suggests that “social movements attempt to replace ‘a dominant belief system that legitimizes the status quo with an alternative mobilizing belief system that supports collective action for change,’ movement leaders proffer the symbols of revolt to gain support and mark themselves off from opponents” (p. 106). While symbols must be “new” (otherwise they are simply in agreement with the status quo that contentious politics are trying to change), they cannot be so new that they do not resonate with the individuals they are intended to mobilize- “Inequality is back in the news thanks to OWS” (Holcomb, 2011).

Leaders construct “collective action frames” that accentuate grievances in order to mobilize (even where the grievances existed without action before) by magnifying injustice and creating emotional pivots. The media can be used to transmit these symbols and frames, in a move towards constructing consensus (at least among those taking part in the action and who are meant to be mobilized). Frame theory’s emphasis on the intentional ways in which movement activists seek to construct their self-presentations so as to draw support from others points to critical processes in social movements (Snow et al., 2000) proves critical in the case of the Occupy Wall Street movement for what seemed to be constant and continual media coverage; however this frame preceded the actual movement in that first and hashtag issued by The Canadian activist group Adbusters on July 4th (below) initiated the protest the Occupy Wall Street movement that “officially” began in September 2011 with the occupation of Zaccotti Bridge in New York City.

OWS began as a grassroots protest against the inequality, greed and corruption associated with the financial sector of the economy. The movement adopted the slogan (frame): “We are the 99%” which refers to the distribution of wealth in the US between the richest 1 per cent and the rest (Wasserman, 2011). It all started innocuously enough with a July 13 blog post urging people to #OccupyWallStreet, as though such a thing (Twitter hashtag and all) were possible (Kessler, 2011).

Image: Twitter via Adbusters

Image: Twitter via Adbusters

 (The Tweet that launched OWS. Image:

The Occupy movement, decentralized and leaderless, has mobilized thousands of people around the world almost exclusively via the Internet through the framework of the 99%. Still, we must consider that created cultural frames and “inherited cultural frames are combined with strategic choices within the process of contention” (Tarrow 1998, p. 117) to evolve within contentious acts themselves. To move beyond one-time contention into social movements, lasting frames and symbolisms must be constructed that maintain those already mobilized and mobilized new adherents; these must amplify shared values and goals, while papering over differences that could lead to demobilization.

It turns out, with enough momentum and a keen sense of how to use social media, it actually is possible to create a social movement and lead your own media coverage. Media frames suggest the contours and meanings of groups such as OWS and of actions such as protests (DeLuca, Lawson, & Sun, 2012). The role of framing is necessary in constructing meaning through media and perhaps even creates the social reality, but is it sustainable?

Sustainability Factors or Lack Thereof

OWS was widely billed as a major social movement, but ultimately its lack of collective impact left much to desire for supporters and occupiers. Its ultimate impact was dependent on the group ability to produce a focused and concise agenda for organizers. The protesters, had no official leaders, released a broad list of grievances, framing their message from anti-wars in the Middle East to student debt and high bonuses for Wall Street executives (Kavoussi, 2011).

While those grievances shared a common theme: discontent with the power of corporations and alarm that the economic future of a broad swath of the population appears in jeopardy this only proves that OWS tapped into widespread public discontent. Protesters will only be able to influence public policy if they recruit new members and create their own institutions, ranging from media outlets to grassroots organizations. “I don’t think that any existing institutions are going to leap to the leadership of the movement,” said Sidney Tarrow, emeritus professor of government at Cornell University. “If this movement is real, and if it’s powerful, it will create its own institutions” (Kavoussi, 2011).

Tarrow (Kavoussi, 2011) said there has been “very little leadership from the left” in terms of expressing solidarity with the protesters, which he attributed to Democratic political fears and a focus on narrow policy questions rather than broader reforms. Now, he said, the new generation of young people occupying Wall Street will need to expand and become self-reliant. There is no guarantee of public policy change as a result of powerful new social movements. This is why organizational sustainability is so critical in continuing to push forth concise messaging through actors of influence. At present, very few sustainability practices are observed by OWS.

The Role of Social Media in the Tea Party Movement

Social Media as an Organizational Tool

Since its inception in February 2009, the Tea Party movement—with the help of viral videos and social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter—found a large and loyal following that quickly gained traction and supporters. However, the movement’s electoral success in 2010 did not carry over to the 2012 midterm elections. Nevertheless, the Tea Party remained an influential force within the Republican Party, evidenced by its sway over House Republicans during the budget showdown in 2013 that resulted in a partial government shutdown on Oct. 1, 2013.

CNBC’s Rick Santelli is widely credited with launching the grassroots movement. While standing on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on February 19, 2009, he unleashed what can only be called a rant against the Obama Administration’s proposal to help homeowners facing foreclosure refinance their mortgages.

He went on to suggest that he would organize a Chicago Tea Party in July, where capitalists would dump “some derivative securities into Lake Michigan.” The video of his tirade became a YouTube hit, and thus the movement was born. Within weeks, Tea Party protests were sprouting up all over the country. The Tea Party name, a clear reference to the American colonists’ dumping of tea into Boston Harbor to protest taxes imposed by King George, stands as an acronym as well: Taxed Enough Already.

Many Americans were as frustrated as Santelli about the government spending that was occurring and took to Twitter following the YouTube video, and created what most think was the first true groundswell on social media:

Not long following those first few tweets, Santelli’s “Chicago Tea Party” protest idea spread throughout conservative groups on Twitter using the micro-blogging tool’s hashtag sorting mechanism. With a mix of established yet geographically scattered like #TCOT, short for “Top Conservatives on Twitter,” conservatives began organizing their own physical Tea Party groups (Zernike, 2010).  One conservative blogger Michelle Malkin (@michellemalkin) moved the idea using her conservative blog and within hours the Santelli rant had been tweeted and retweeted thousands of times. The CNBC video clip on had over 1.2 million views in less than twelve hours (Rosenthal, 2009).

New media allowed the Tea Party to effectively become their own gatekeepers. Almost immediately, conservatives around the country latched onto what they interpreted as a call to action (Rosenthal, 2009). O’Hara (2010), an early Tea Party activist, observed, “Already Facebook Groups were multiplying, each carrying in its descriptions iterations of the phrase ‘Rick Santelli is right,’ or ‘Tea Party!’ People we did not even know contacted us simply because we had listed ourselves as conservatives on social media.”

Santelli, however, can’t claim credit as the sole mastermind of the movement. Prior to his appearance in Chicago, Keli Carender, a Seattle at-home mother also known as Liberty Belle, had been using her blog to get the word out about the populist “Porkulus Protest” she was organizing against President Barack Obama’s proposed $750 billion stimulus package. About 100 people showed up for her event in mid-February. Similar events inspired by both Santelli and Carender, followed in quick succession in Denver; Mesa, Arizona; Tampa, Florida and other cities. Tea Party organizers claim that the first nationwide Tea Party protest took place on February 27, 2009, with coordinated events occurring in more than 40 cities (Rowan, 2013).

The first phase of the Tea Party’s offline action was protests. The first protest was held on February 27th, 2009 in Washington, DC. The rally that was held in front of the White House is said to have attracted nearly 300 people (O’Hara, 2010). Encouraged by the turnout, Tea Party activists scheduled another day of rallies for April 15th, 2009. The estimated turnout for the “Tax Day Rallies” was 615,000 nationwide (Radman, 2009). These numbers, while likely exaggerated, showed that the movement had gained considerable momentum, most of which online, in a short period of time. This incredible exponential growth of the movement was likely a consequence of the movement’s decentralization (Brafman & Beckstrom, 2006).  The new media on which these early rallies were organized are significant because of the people that became engaged. Brafman and Beckstrom (2006) argue that decentralized organizations encourage people to want to contribute. O’Hara (2010, p. 10) when discussing how he organized the first Tea Party rally said, Freire and I hardly knew or know 400 free-market people we could call on to show up outside the White House with a week or less notice. A decade ago there would have been absolutely no way to make this possible. The multiplier effect of Facebook, for example, was amazing. To be able to forward an invite to 10 friends who could in turn forward it collectively to 100 and so on was invaluable. Folks that barely knew how to check their e-mail were signing up for Facebook just to stay in the loop on protests in their area.

How Social Media Generated Press

While TPM ideas resonated with historical traditions of US political culture, the movement needed media to disseminate its vision to the wider public. The TPM swiftly and successfully disseminated its socio-political opinions to a wide audience. Tarrow (1998, p. 110) explains the strategic logic undergirding claims-making processes: ‘social movements are deeply involved in the work of “naming” grievances, connecting them to other grievances, and constructing larger frames of meaning that will resonate with a population’s cultural predispositions and communicate a uniform message to power holders and others’.

Tea Partiers detest all things big: big government, big business, big national debt, big taxes. They express hostility toward the elite and outrage that the government has come to the aid of Wall Street while ignoring the plight of Main Street. Most Tea Partiers consider themselves citizen activists who are part of a grassroots movement that is organized from the bottom up—small groups united under a shared ideology (Rowan, 2013).

The movement claims no national leader or figurehead. Some say that Sarah Palin assumed the role as #1 Tea Partier when she delivered the keynote address at the first Tea Party Convention in February 2010 in Nashville. Some 600 people attended the full convention, and another 500 sat in on Palin’s speech only (Rowan, 2013). It doesn’t take a sociologist or political scientist to identify what attracts the media to semi-volatile topics and people who lead these conversations.

In February 2009, the Tea Party Movement burst onto the political scene in the United States. Emerging out of popular unrest over the economic downturn of 2008 and the perceived radical agenda of President Barack Obama, the Tea Party quickly captured the imagination of disenchanted conservatives. Media coverage of the movement was abundant, with a frame contest between the TPM and its political opponents swiftly surfacing (Boycoff & Laschever, 2011).

Media frames bracketed discussions over the authenticity of the Tea Party, the composition of its members, the movement’s message, and whether the TPM was poised for a long-term impact. In Boycoff & Laschever’s 2011 study which caught and analyzed predominant media frames that materialized in 882 news packets from nine major print and television news sources between February 19, 2009 and November 30, 2010 in order to better understand the role the US media played in defining the Tea Party. Four sets of diametric frames appeared in the media—the Everyday American vs. Non-Mainstream, Grassroots vs. Establishment-Affiliated, Fiscal-Federal Frustrations vs. Amalgam of Grievances, and Election Impact vs. Flash in the Pan (Boycoff & Laschever, 2011). The findings of this study, showed that overall, the TPM succeeded in mobilizing symbolic media representations to advance their goals, achieving politically propitious coverage. US media depicted the TPM with supportive frames more than twice as often as the deprecatory characterizations the activists opposed.

Sustainability Factors or Lack Thereof

Hierarchy and organization (structures) are the two primary differentiators that spur The Tea (Taxed Enough Already) Party Movement success and propensity to sustainability. Although we usually refer to the “Tea Party,” this movement is made up of hundreds of highly independent “Tea Parties.” While it is a collection of grassroots groups that are largely decentralized the groups do share a loose set of beliefs and are sometimes linked with national-level organizations such as the Tea Party Patriots and the Tea Party Express, though largely they operate independently (Boycoff & Laschever, 2011). Though sometimes funded by political heavy-hitters like FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, local Tea Party groups enjoy relative autonomy (Williamson et al., 2011).

Rasmussen and Schoen (2010) distinguish the TPM into four major components. First, ‘Organizational Backers’ such as FreedomWorks provide infrastructural support for the movement. Second, the ‘Individual Organizers’ conduct on-the-ground planning and solidarity work. Third, ‘Symbolic Leaders’—nationally recognized figures identifiable to outsiders (e.g. Sarah Palin)—echo the movement’s sentiments. Finally, ‘The Base’ is the bulk of the movement: “a cross section of America that represents a solid one-third of the electorate, if not considerably more, perhaps right up to 50 per cent” (p. 156).

TPM has harnessed what Tarrow (1998) describes as “mobilizing structures” as a resource which allows acts to be better sustained as social movements, and which “bring people together in the field, shape coalitions, confront opponents, and assure their own future after the exhilaration of the peak of mobilization has passed” (p. 123). It is these structures that institutionalize collective action for the movement. Tarrow finds that there is “no single model of movement organization” (p. 137) that operates better than another, and that the type of organization can have varied yet powerful effects on the success of the movement as illustrated above. A formal hierarchical organization of course is more sustainable when faced with interaction with allies, authorities, and supporters, but hierarchies that fully internalize their base (i.e. grass-roots activists) lose their ability to disrupt!

Fully autonomous groups, however, encourage a lack of coordination and continuity (Tarrow, 1998). Tarrow “suggests a delicate balance between formal organization and autonomy–one that can only be bridged by strong, informal, nonhierarchical connective structures” (p. 137). Decidedly, the most successful movements will have this “informal connective tissue operating within and between formal movement organizations” (p. 137). To put it in a more simple matter, not just one or the other, but both types of actors are needed for sustainability of a movement.

The Magic of the Internet

Importance of Being Current in Context & Current State of Each Movement

Movements are dynamic and hard to control–because they are a loose association of individuals. Internally, the movement cannot control its participants. Externally, political opportunities and constraints continue to shift (Tarrow, 1998). As one movement widens and “information spreads about the susceptibility of a polity to challenge,” additional activists and also “ordinary people” may “begin to test the limits of social control” (p. 24). In other words, one movement’s success creates greater [perceived] opportunity for other movements. When the resulting “cycles of contention” spread to an extreme, revolution may occur.

“The difference between movement cycles and revolutions is that, in the latter, multiple centers of sovereignty are created, turning the conflict between challengers and members of the polity into a struggle for power” (p. 25). Tarrow argues “that contention is more closely related to opportunities for and limited by constraints upon collective action than by the persistent social or economic factors that people experience” (p. 71). Nevertheless, “changing opportunities must be seen alongside more stable structural elements like the strength or weakness of the state and the forms of repression it habitually employs” (p. 71). The dimensions of opportunity are increasing access, shifting alignments, divided elites, influential allies, and repression/facilitation. Three main dimensions of the state can create opportunities: state strength, prevailing strategies, and repressiveness.

Opportunities are not only static, they can exist for brief periods of time, and then close again; or, the political changes because of the influence of mobilization can lead to demobilization or additional/different opportunities.


Why Occupy failed to meet the objectives of the 99%

Social movements in new media create cheaper, faster, and movements broader in reach than traditional media ever has for any size movement; however, these opportunities and benefits must be weighed against the possible challenges that are raised when face-to-face contact between activists is replaced by computer mediated communication (CMC) platforms . While OWS had contention (Tarrow, 1998) driving its activities and the media buy in, hook, line and sinker, a viable strategy to many social movements, disruption loses its power as the movement progresses as formal organization moves away from it, police and elite counteract it, and individuals within the movement lose interest in collective action. OWS was nonviolent in nature and had the benefit of conventional forms of grievance disputing, easy to join and take up demonstrations in a public performance to air disputes without true disruption, but this was also a major strike against the sustainability of the movement.

Tarrow (1998) calls these forms of action in social movements the “repertoire of contention” and change within four categories: “the institutionalization of disruptive forms of contention, innovation at the margins of inherited forms, tactical interaction with police and other actors, and paradigmatic change” (p. 101). The three forms of contention combine “properties of challenge, uncertainty, and solidarity” (p. 104). While powerful in the beginning, the power was lost as the movement progressed.  OWS had no clear messaging, no set goals to achieve, and no clear demands as evidenced by this sampling of occupiers needs taken from  Andy Ostroy’s Huffington Post blog in October, 2011:

“I am choosing to no longer participate in what I perceive to be an abusive relationship,” said Occupier Lopi.

“Our goal to create a massive independent weapon of mass help! We are not intent on destruction. We are intent on confronting and fixing what we all know is a bought government.” another occupier told him. “This is our shared moment to seize prosperity.”

“Our nation is too busy growing debt, poverty, homelessness, wars, oil spills, global temperatures and inflation on everything we need ­– like food, education and healthcare — to slow down, stop and fix the problem,” another named Goldi said.

“I’m here because I love my family, and want to protect them from the thief with the gun on the street to the thief with the pen behind the desk!” said Calvin Roy.

Viable goals, a rich mixture of new media and traditional media as well as CMC and face-to-face representation helps maintain healthy collective identity and collective action (Loader, 2008). As mainstream media lost events to cover, was saturated with content from other sources, and OWS has no viable political affiliation beside “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore” America’s “first true social media uprising” maintains potential for this fragmented social movement created thanks to social media efforts to move forward but has become limited to activities which still ripples through social media, though not nearly at startup strength it has not gone away so it cannot be thought of necessarily as sustained in this regard, it certainly failed to meet the objectives of the 99%.

Linda Hirshman (2011) might have said it best in her Atlantic piece:

“Occupy Wall Street encompasses a sprawling set of interests — people who lost their homes, students burdened by debt, anarchists driven by ideology, what remains of the union movement after 40 years of decline. Keeping such a coalition together long enough to make social change is an almost unprecedented undertaking. Conventional social movement theory suggests that coalitions of this sort do not attract followers from every affected sector at the beginning, when they are at their weakest. They attract mostly people who support the full grab bag of interests named. The number of such catholic activists is diminishing small. And they are the bottom of the social class structure America denies but reproduces with rigidity unequaled even in traditional aristocracies like France and England. They may be the 99 percent, but they’re the bottom 99 percent. Not for them the workshops of the avant-garde New York theaters and the opinion pages of The New York Times” (Hirshman, 2011).

Why the Tea Party is #winning social media

Recalling that Tarrow (1998) discussed the elements needed to create a sustained movement from the contention, he maintained four characteristics or what he calls “prerequisites of sustainable social movements” as: 1) political opportunities, 2) diffuse social networks, 3) familiar forms of collective action, and 4) cultural frames that can resonate throughout a population. The Tea Party Movement satisfies these prerequisites.

Many critics have said the Tea Party movement sometimes lacks a coherent message and appears to be unorganized and chaotic which would put them right alongside a struggling OWS; however, the following strategies and tactics set TPM apart from OWS on a course for movement sustainability. While the OWS collective identity was to challenge current structures and propose new/greater economic systems for a broader base, a common good, the 99%, the TPM has a reverse goal. That is to implement (or reverse) socio-cultural changes are closely tied to a variety of feelings and emotions that are themselves closely intertwined with that their identity is in direct conflict with politically and emotionally.

The Tea Party Movement list of grievances are large: liberal elites, big money interests, a government that served the ‘big guys’, fearful that ‘Obama the revolutionary’ was moving their country toward socialism. They were anxious, angry and resentful, raging against federal bureaucracy, liberal government programs and policies including health care, immigration reform and labor laws, abortion, and gay marriage (Berlet, 2010), a formula usually too broad and set up for disaster in collective action. Actual victories behind actual party members in elected office allowed for their ongoing list of objectives or grievances to maintain a positive role in formation including sustained benefits of the collective identity.

“Within a short time after its 2010 ‘electoral success’, it seemed as if the Tea Party had actually become a formidable movement portending a fundamental change in American politics. That ‘victory’ (due to a small percentage of the voters), however, was pyrrhic” (Langman, 2012). “Overall, the TPM succeeded in mobilizing symbolic media representations to advance their goals, achieving politically propitious coverage. US media depicted the TPM with supportive frames more than twice as often as the deprecatory characterizations the activists opposed” according to a 2011 study performed by Boycoff and Lashchever.

Tea Partiers have gone a step further, successfully backing primary challengers against more moderate Republicans like Delaware’s Mike Castle with members like Minnesota’s Michelle Backman, Florida’s Marco Rubio, Texan Ted Cruz, and Alaska’s Sarah Palin to name a few. A true connection into politics creates for ease of fiscal mobilization and the staying power of an actual party affiliation to stand behind. The Tea Party movement has succeeded by connecting local groups to the national conversation via new and old media, and with that larger numbers and resources. The movement as a whole has evolved into an activist powerhouse. It is empowering a new class of populist political heroes. Those who would by previous political conventional standards be considered benchwarmers, are now demonstrating power in DC and in states nationwide.

While some question the movement’s pervasiveness (Williamson et al., 2011), TPM activists and their supporters unite around a policy agenda of fiscal responsibility and limited government, many acknowledge consistency ends there. I argue that these variables while not 100% the same are strong symbols of the party movement, organized, and arranged in a hierarchy supported by third party organizations when need be for heft. This formula has proven to be successful in both the launch of the Tea Party Movement and in its ability to sustain since 2009 regularly showing up on the American political spectrum ever since inception.

Lastly, one of the most surprising tactics TPM has employed since inception is technological training for members or would-be members. While the Tea Party has been criticized by some on the left for being a very vocal minority and out of the mainstream, they have succeeded in getting previously apathetic Americans involved in politics. American Majority is one of a few national umbrella groups trying to change the disconnected feeling that lies in a mostly online social movement. The conservative activism education and organizational training they provide have been also played an essential role in the Tea Party’s digital success. This strategy includes everything from traditional guidance, development of tracking and rating software, tech training to TPM members (many of whom are in their 50’s – 70’s in age), and financial support for get-out-the-vote operations. Together these tools are unique to TPM providing structure to develop and disburse more innovative online activism through social media channels.

TPM did create and maintain a social movement via social media tactics in which droves of people, already conservative in nature, joined their brothers and sisters in boosting the Republican networks and organizations with more or less goals and visions of change in the political system that could reverse damage done by a Democratic president and that could project the movement into the future with relative ease.  Despite having broad contention, their framing and mobilizing structures are relatively simple and easy to maintain via social media, “old” media, and big business. Based on Tarrow’s model this is enough to create and maintain the TPM, the other tactics have thus far proven to sustain the TPM model. Success will be determined in future elections and in observing long-term resource mobilization and collective action.

Thus far, the Tea Party Movement has sustainability in evolution and has proven it can exist beyond Twitter, Facebook, citizen journalist accounts, online forums and localized protests while Occupy Wall Street has yet to attain such a distinction. In order to stay politically influential, the decentralized Tea Party movement became more centralized. This suggests that that the Tea Party movement’s future political relevance is relative and depends entirely on how the movement continues to evolve.

Regardless of how many bills Tea Party representatives author, coalitions they build, or social media channels occupied, the point is that the Tea Party organizers understand the American political system – specifically, when to use social media and when to move beyond it and engage on the ground. The Occupy Wall Street movement seems to have a great journey ahead before having any home of getting its broad grievances to affect public policy. When the final protests are disbanded the movement will have a tremendous opportunity actually, it will no longer be judged by the number of “occupiers” in a park, but by its ideals. In order for those ideals to grow into real reforms; however, OWS must be able to present a political leader or suggest specific public policy — and mobilize digital media to do so, until this end there is no threat of a sustained social movement or policy outcomes.


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