Social media fuels Occupy Colleges movement

More than 5,000 students participated in walkouts Oct. 5.

Within a week of launching Occupy Colleges, a group in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protests, more than 100 U.S. campuses had offshoots of the national movement. That would have been impossible, organizers said, without Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook groups and Twitter accounts have cropped up across higher education since the beginning of October, when Occupy Colleges launched its website and invited schools of every size to join the burgeoning protests against corporate excesses, including rising tuition and growing student loan debt that leaves many graduates with hefty monthly payments in a stagnant job market.

Student organizers said they expected students at 140 campuses – from community colleges to research universities – to launch protests Oct. 13, a week after more than 5,000 students from 80 schools participated in a walkout as Occupy Wall Street continued its protests at Zuccotti Park in New York City.

The ubiquity of internet-accessible smart phones and the prevalence of Twitter and Facebook accounts on college campuses helped activists spread the Occupy protests to campuses across the country faster than perhaps any movement before, said Natalia Abrams, a University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) alum who has helped facilitate local Occupy Colleges groups.

“The beauty of this movement is the convergence of social media and face-to-face interaction,” Abrams said. “There’s really no way I could ever get the word out to that many people in such a short period of time. Facebook and Twitter have been absolutely essential in that way … and we’re going to keep using them and fighting indefinitely.”

Occupy Colleges’ Facebook page has more than 4,000 “likes” and its Twitter account has about 3,000 followers.

Social networking and other online communication has been a cornerstone of the movement born from the original Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. On its website, Occupy Colleges tells student protesters that it’s “vital” to record video, take photos, and post the images on the group’s officials website.

“It is important to document your protests,” the website said.

In a letter to the 140 campuses that pledged to participate in the demonstrations, Occupy Colleges organizers remind protesters that the cause goes beyond exorbitant tuition hikes and crushing loan payments.

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