Tech of #OccupyWallStreet

A social movement with a hashtag in its name is obviously heavily reliant on technology. Here are a few technologies and approaches that Occupy Wall Street used to expand rapidly.

  • Mesh networks: localized Internets, set up for rapid and secure internal communication.
  • The People’s Skype, a distributed voice and voting system that enables the peculiar General Assembly voting system to function by linking different voice accounts to a general PA system.
  • The Occupy Network, a Facebook app that allows a user to see every Occupy Wall Street and affiliate-related page, which users are involved, and live feeds from affiliated users.
  • Apps that send text messages out to preset lists of friends as the user is about to be arrested, which might explain the movement’s very rapid communication tactical loops.
  • Go” and “Vibe” iPhone apps, which allow allow anonymous users to stream and post media in real time and locate tagged posts on a GPS map.

Understanding OWS’ usage of tech, however, goes beyond specific technologies. Alexis Madrigal and Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic also wrote very interesting and perceptive posts about Occupy Wall Street’s broader tech philosophy. Friedersdorf had a short post about how the movement’s decentralization enabled rapid response–a suggestion he made about specific demands for the protestors ended up being reproduced word-for-word on a protester’s sign. Madrigal wrote about how the movement‘s specific philosophy and operating methods mirrored Twitter’s use of APIs to let app developers create software.

To some extent, the tactical and operational dynamics of OWS can also be explained by John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt’s literature. Their path-breaking 1994 study of the Zapatista movement in Mexico is recommended for any student of information technology and social movements. John Robb and Shlok Vaidya were also ahead in looking at tactical and operational dynamics of OWS and tech.

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About AdamElkus

Adam Elkus is a PhD student in Computational Social Science at George Mason University. He writes on national security, technology, and strategy at and the new analysis focused Analyst One, War on the Rocks, and his own blog Rethinking Security. His work has been published in The Atlantic, Journal of Military Operations Foreign Policy, West Point Counterterrorism Center Sentinel, and other publications.