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Twitter in Frankfurt's Blockupy Protests

The final speaker in this ECREA 2016 session is the great Luca Rossi, whose focus is on the Blockupy Frankfurt protests, directed against the inauguration of the new European Central Bank building. These protests used social media as a central means of generating engagement and activity.

The movement used a number of key hashtags (#blockupy, #destroika, #notroika) to mobilise its supporters; tweets in these hashtags largely consisted of retweets of a number of key messages. It is notable that there are a comparatively limited amount of URLs in these tweets, however, positioning these hashtags outside of common patterns.

Interestingly, the Frankfurt police account @polizei_ffm is very prominent in this network, however – this is because the account actively tweeted into these hashtags and thus essentially interfered with the protest mobilisation efforts. Overall, the hashtag participation network breaks down into a cluster centring on the police account, a cluster around news accounts, and a cluster around the Blockupy activists themselves. These clusters work differently; the police cluster is a great deal more centralised, for instance, while the Blockupy cluster is more evenly structured.

The present study expands on this by focussing especially on the visual content shared in these hashtags, exploring violent imagery in particular. The key categories here are no violence, latent violence, and physical violence. In this it is also important to consider that police and politician accounts received a larger number of retweets than media or activists, for instance; this means that different images would have reached a different audience size.

Different actors chose very different depictions of violence. Actors largely shared non-violent imagery; media actors focussed on physical violence, while police focussed on images of both physical and latent violence. This tells different stories: activists sought to show images of happy, non-violent protests; police showed fighting and physical damage as well as threatening-looking protesters.

This also shows the growing social media sophistication of the police force – and it becomes important to ask who the intended audiences of the social media activities of these different parties are. Are activists largely talking to their own? Are police tweeting to inform (and attract the support of) the general public of Frankfurt?