January 10, 2013

Tweeting Occupy


A year and a half after the start of the Occupy movement, Emory University’s Digital Scholarship Commons has pulled together thousands of geolocated tweets related to the movement nationwide to produce a series of maps, charts, and a lovely word cloud in a project called “Tweeting #OWS.” High up among the words most used are many you might expect: “people,” “police,” “right,” and “march,” but the Emory graduate analyzers also deliberately highlighted some of the less familiar hashtags in circulation, such as #p2 and #tcot. If you’re not up on your hashtaggery:

According to TagDef, #p2 is “a resource for progressives using social media who prioritize diversity and empowerment, the ‘progressive bat channel’, and an umbrella tag for information for progressives on Twitter.” It has been in use since 2009. #tcot is, according to their website, “the twitter hashtag for following top conservatives on Twitter,” including people like Newt Gingrich and Glenn Beck. It has been in use since 2009 and has over one million followers.

Time-lapse maps for New York and the country as a whole show Twitter Occupy activity waxing and waning. What’s particularly useful about the project is the length of time monitored: the map of the US obviously shows a lot of activity in October 2011, but since the data pool runs from October 2011 through September 2012, you can see the continuing presence of Occupy actions or perhaps just Occupy pondering long after November 2011, when large scale arrests and a concerted effort by the NYPD to clear Zuccotti Park began. Similarly, the nationwide maps show tweeting in lots of places not immediately thought of in connection to Occupy: Florida, Texas, North Carolina.

The Emory group’s initial questions were:

How did geography play a role? How would current events be reflected and addressed by OWS tweets and those interested in OWS? How were different groups using the OWS hashtag? How were people networked with other protesters and critics?

Their visualizations don’t answer all these questions, but they definitely show the length and breadth of the movement, and provide some new and interesting focus on the way Twitter users were talking about Occupy — see, for instance, the chart of words used that are connected to supporting the movement, like “want,” “need,” and “support.” And it’s rather cheering to see that “please” comes in so low. No pleases from this crowd.



Sal Robinson is an editor at Melville House. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.