Published November 11, 2011
A Wall Street broker stood up at a midtown Manhattan social media conference focused on the Occupy Wall Street movement and rushed toward a journalist at the front of the room who had been filming it.
Jabbing his finger into the reporter’s face, the banker said the man with a smartphone had no right to film him -- even though it was a public event.
It wasn’t long before things got ugly. A fight nearly broke out and obscenities were exchanged.
The event's organizers couldn’t have staged a more appropriate incident to serve as a microcosm for one of the points they were trying to make: that social media is playing a vital role in spreading the message of the Occupy Wall Street protesters and some people – bankers, for instance, especially those who feel like scapegoats – don’t like it.
The implications of the scuffle weren’t lost on a panel member.
"Is there a little bit of irony here?" said TJ Walker of Media Training Worldwide, who was hosting the gathering. Walker has written an e-book about the protests called 'Occupy Wall Street Message: Bust Up The Big Banks.'
"To me, Occupy Wall Street is about Wall Street elites wanting to control information, control the information flow," he said. "We were very respectful to the gentlemen here, but once social media became part of this with you taking a picture, they just went berserk."
The Incident: Cursing at the Cameraman
The Occupy Wall Street town hall last week was a part of the iBreakfast series, which covers a variety of subjects in the technology world.
During a discussion of how social media has impacted the Occupy movement, the broker made a beeline for a journalist at the front of the room who had been recording the conference on his smartphone.
“I would like to ask this gentleman to not take my photograph or video because I view that as an act of intimidation and an invasion of privacy,” the banker said, before abruptly leaving the building.
The reporter filming the event, Mo Krochmal, co-founder of Social Media News NY, says he wasn’t focusing on the broker or anyone else in the audience.
As the incident unfolded, Walker, of Media Training Worldwide, told the banker to “hide at home,” adding that videos and streaming are “a part of the social media world.”
The agitated banker cursed at the reporter and was immediately asked to leave, yelling all the way out that “they” are going about the “conversation” all wrong.
Maybe the banker would have had a different reaction if he’d known the entire public meeting was being streamed live, blasted out to anyone watching over the web before he could even hit the “Lobby” button on the elevator.
As one panelist, Stuart Tracte of the political web show Beer Diplomacy, put it, social media is just hitting puberty, and the people it’s impacting are still trying to figure out what to do with it and the breadth of its power.
Tracte described Occupy Wall Street as a human movement, one whose relationships and conversations forming on social web platforms have turned a small number of protesters in mid-September into tens of thousands over the course of a few weeks.
Social Media: Inspiring to Occupy
The Occupy protests are still young -- not even two months old in New York -- and the movement has already spread to cities throughout the U.S. and around the world. Social media has reportedly helped the protesters raise a half a million dollars, and helped garner support from hundreds of thousands of people that have never visited the Occupy sites.
Videos of protesters and police officers clashing quickly went viral, angering the general public, inflaming passions for the protesters and their cause, and generally raising awareness of the movement.
For instance, a video uploaded last month to both YouTube and video sharing site Vimeo shows a man -- later identified as Ari Douglas, a legal observer from the National Lawyers Guild -- falling down and screaming after a New York Police Department scooter rolls into a cluster of people.
A few seconds later, the man is struck with a baton and arrested. Bystanders can be heard yelling "you ran over his foot" and chanting "the whole world is watching."
Pictures and videos of tear gas being thrown at protesters at Occupy Oakland, batons being swung and violent arrests have also circulated on the web, lifting protester’s persistence and sparking a flurry of anger against police brutality.
Authorities have reportedly tried to back up their actions through social media; however, those actions have not garnered nearly as much attention.
Andrew Weinreich, creator of sixdegrees.com and CEO of social-networking site MeetMoi, says a key difference between the protests in Vietnam-era America versus the Arab uprisings last spring and Occupy movement of today is that now everyone has a cell phone and nearly everyone has an immediate connection to the Internet.
Protesters can “organize almost spontaneously on Twitter,” Weinreich said at the Occupy Wall Street town hall. “If you can organize spontaneously, you may be able to affect profound change.”
Before the new digital age, protests were generally initiated in a top-down fashion, eventually reaching the ground level through recruiters and leaders at college campuses and various other hubs targeting young people. The process took much longer to gain momentum.
Flash forward to today, where social media helped the Occupy movement spread online instantaneously and to other cities in a matter of days.
Weinreich noted that the number of people encamped at Zuccotti Park is “shockingly small,” saying there are probably no more than a few thousand people at its most populated. That is far below the hundreds of thousands seen across other protests in the Middle East and Europe.
However, Yetta Kurland, a social activist and lawyer with the Liberty Park Working Group that supports Occupy Wall Street, attributed the seemingly smaller number of participants to the movement's impressive circulation online.
Occupy Wall Street and other protests sparked through social media are the “true embodiment of grassroots movements,” she said at last week's gathering.