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Occupy as a Networked Organisation, Using Twitter

The final speaker in this AoIR 2012 session is Sheetal Agarwal, whose focus is also on Occupy-related Twitter networks. Is Occupy a networked organisation, and if so, what kind of networked organisation? How might its organisational features be assessed? There are plenty of theories about organisation, from organisational sociology to political economy, which have been applied to the study of communication networks, international relations, and digital media. Such theories variously see organisations as bounded or unbounded, intentional or emergent, membership-driven and/or issue-focussed.

Common to organisations are strategies for resource allocation, responsiveness to external environments and flows, and capabilities for long-term internal change. In the context of Occupy on Twitter, a simple example of resource allocation is to tweet a relevant link while using the #occupy hashtag, for example. But the challenge here is that Occupy is a multi-network organisation, combining Twitter and various other networks, so determining the shape and flows of the organisation requires a multidimensional approach.

Sheetal and her colleagues studied Occupy during October to December 2011, taking in a variety of Occupy-related hashtags (#ows, #occupyoakland, #occupyseattle, and others) and examining the patterns of hashtagging, retweeting, and link sharing; in total, they coded some 31,000 URLs contained in original tweets.

Coding examined the types of sources which these links pointed to: individual personal sites and spaces accounted for 32%, while Occupy community sites played a very limited role. Individual sites and spaces tended to be much more important at the local level; in the overall Occupy hashtags, basic news sites turned out to be more important.

There are key spikes in tweeting activity during major events (campsite clearances); basic news sites are more important during the protests, while personal spaces and Occupy sites are used more often after campsite clearances, once the common physical spaces are lost.