Penney & Dadas, “(Re)Tweeting in the service of protest”

Penney & Dadas. “(Re)Tweeting in the service of protest” new media & society 2013 (16 pages)

Much like Jolly’s discussion of Greenham women, Penney and Dadas look toward how a digital, electronic web operates in social movements. Namely, tweeting and retweeting worked in conjuncture with face-to-face protests to create common vision and (accordingly) common practices.

They take as their case study Occupy Wall Street. “The OWS movement has been noted for adopting a leaderless, horizontal structure which has been characterized by Hardt and Negri (2011) as the ‘multitude form’…this form of non-hierarchical organization may account for the movement’s widespread use of social media platforms which operate in a horizontal, peer-to-peer fashion and encourages diffuse popular participation” (76). Referencing Hardt and Negri, the authors don’t see the circulation of these texts as constituted the movement—unlike Jolly: “such network instruments do not create the movements, or course, but they are convenient tools, because they correspond in some sense to the horizontal network structure and democratic experiments of the movements themselves” (76). In this sense, the authors do not see the writing technologies as designing or creating the movement. However, referencing Warner, we also must consider how publics rely upon the circulation of discourse. Like Rice, the authors note Warner’s idea that “no single text can create a public. Nor can a single voice, a single genre, even a single medium…Not texts themselves create publics, but the concatenation of texts through time” (Warner 90 qtd. In Penney and Dadas 77).

Twitter, then, becomes an interesting site of research in the creating and maintenance of public because of its emphasis on ephemeral digital content. As the authors write, the affordances of the tweet—140 character limit—“almost seems to be purposefully designed for quick circulation. …Twitter messages ‘privilege circulation almost to the exclusion of other concerns’” (77). Composers, then, are very rhetorically savvy “about how they can draw in their audience with few words, using brevity to their advantage: ‘Composers’ decisions anticipate future considerations of distribution…the moment of circulation inhabits the moment of composition” (78). Later in their piece, they draw a connection to DeVoss and Ridolfo’s concept of rhetorical velocity: protesters were very conscious of the value of the viral spread of messages. “Thinking about rhetorical velocity includes…rhetorical concerns about what might motivate a third part to redistribute and/or recompose the text, or what might give the text future velocity” (Ridolfo & DeVoss qtd in Penney and Dadas 85).

Furthermore, users do not see the 140-character limit—the constraints of the interface—as restricting. Protesters “could navigate around [the constraints] by employing other social media platforms. Here, Twitter was conceptualized as only one part of a much larger digital ecosystem that offered activists many different ways to communicate, a point that has also been emphasized in recent literature on digital technology and social movements” (86).

The authors turn to their interviews with protesters to draw a typology of roles that Twitter takes to facilitate connectivity. For example, they note that their electronic communication can facilitate offline protest action, i.e. it augments face-to-face mobilization by helping navigate these interfaces. Users/protesters also use their devices to document the protests, often live-tweeting meetings, events, altercations with police. Users displaced from the center of protests were able to participate “beyond the physical confines” of the protest environment. In this way, Twitter facilitates a sense of community, solidarity, and group identity among the protesters. However, they note that while creating these bonds may not necessarily constitute formal participation in OWS, “such building of social ties has long been recognized as an integral aspect of building social movements” (83).



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