When Police Hijacked #Blockupy Frankfurt: A Critical Analysis of Activists' Social Media Tactics

Monday, 11 July 2016: 11:15
Location: Seminarsaal 10 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Christina NEUMAYER, IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark
Luca ROSSI, IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark
Bjorn KARLSSON, IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark
In this article, we critically question the idea that street action in combination with activists’ social media tactics can produce alternative perspectives and public visibility. We argue that social media grant authorities potential for greater control over public discourse concerning protest events – through surveillance opportunities as well as active use of social media tactics to produce their own “counter-information”. The argument is based on the case of the trans-European Blockupy alliance mobilized to block the opening of the European Central Bank offices in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. The study combines ethnographic fieldwork with an analysis of social media data. The ethnographic fieldwork is composed of field notes from participant observation during the Blockupy action, interviews with activists and an online ethnographic inquiry into Facebook groups. The social media data consists of a social network analysis of Twitter (n=229.911), collected on the basis of protest hashtags (#Blockupy, #Destroika, #NoTroika).

Identification of social media practices and tactics reveals two trends: a) an interaction of surveillance and improved social media tactics by authority such as the police; and b) a focus on violence and property damage, mass action, and performativity in protest events to produce publicity on social media. In today’s over-mediated environments, activists use new tactics to report from street protests through social media in combination with mainstream and alternative media. Smartphones have replaced the tent through which information was formerly uploaded onto the IndyMedia alternative media platform, and activists risk becoming subject to surveillance. On social media, images of riots, peaceful protests, artistic action, as well as police and news media struggle for public visibility in today’s saturated media environments. In the Blockupy Frankfurt action, police became the dominant actor in this struggle by hijacking the protest hashtag and tactically using images of riots to produce a positive image.