Grassroots organizing in the digital age: considering values and technology in Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street


Work data:

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Type of work: Article (academic)


e-Democracy | Participation | Social Media & Social Software




Power dynamics shape, and are shaped by, the tools used by participants in social movements. In this study we explore the values, attitudes, and beliefs of Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street stakeholders as they relate to their use of technology. This multi-method study applies the lens of value sensitive design [VSD; Friedman, B. (Ed.) (1997). Human values and the design of computer technology (vol. 72). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press] to examine stakeholder values and sites of value tension. We contextualize our findings with qualitative observation of how these values are reflected in each organization's online spaces, including Facebook, Twitter, and key organizational websites, as well as private spaces such as email.

We found liberty, the value most mentioned by Tea Party members, was not reflected in the movement's organizational websites and Facebook pages, where user autonomy is frequently undermined. However, the Occupy value of equality is supported in the movement's web presence. We also found a set of shared central values – privacy and security, inclusion, and consensus – underlying both Tea Party and Occupy's approach to organization and participation. Value tensions around privacy and inclusion emerged for both groups, as some members opted not to use these tools due to security concerns and leaders struggled to adapt their communication strategies accordingly.

This study provides insight into the adoption and contestation of different technological tools within grassroots social movements, how those decisions are shaped by core values, and how conflicts over the use of digital tools can result from tension between how different stakeholders prioritize those values.