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Strategic Communication: “Occupy Wall Street” Campaign Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: May 18th, 2020


The “Occupy Wall Street” movement can be considered a manifestation of the influence of the media on the perception and thus the impression of the general public towards particular ideas and events. The propaganda model presents the notion that the content produced by mass media supports current sociological and ideological biases which is utilized by the media in order to promote particular ideas for their own gain (i.e. higher ratings) or the gain of the political and economic elites (i.e. to get access to information as well as advertising deals). Through such support, this in turn impacts the perception of viewers who rely on the media as their primary means of information regarding events that occur within their city, region, country or the world around them. It is within this context that the media can be considered the largest proponent towards the creation of the Occupy Wall Street campaigns in the U.S.

Evidence of the propaganda model in action during the coverage of the “Occupy Wall Street Movement” can be seen in the typical “pro and con” structure which portrayed sensationalism, bias, as well as unbalanced reporting. One way of understanding the effectiveness of such methods of coverage and its ability to sway public opinion is by examining the concept of irrational exuberance which acts as a means of influencing the behavior of a media outlet’s audience. Irrational exuberance can be defined as the means of by which an individual molds their behavior on the actions of other people. It is defined as being “irrational” since some individuals tend to take things at face value resulting in their opinion being swayed by outside media without necessarily considering the other side of the issue.

Within the context of media coverage and the general consensus of the members of the “Occupy Wall Street movement”, there were was little in the way of sufficiently objective reporting on the part of the media as well as a lack of proper understanding on the part of the protestors. This was evident by the sheer fact that there were no long term plans put forth by the protestors in order to resolve the problem that they were protesting against. This in effect means that they were protesting against an issue with no clear idea on how to resolve it and were just protesting for the sake of protesting. This is a clear indicator that irrational exuberance was in effect which was brought about through the biased reporting of the media.

In addition, both economic and political/social propaganda were evident during the events. Arguably, the media was used to spread and promote propagandistic messages that aimed at creating “people power” by utilizing the people’s feelings towards the prevailing social, economic and political problems including unemployment and inequalities.

In this paper, an in-depth analysis of the Occupy Wall Street campaigns is developed. The aim is to analyze the events in terms of scholastic perspectives of propaganda, power and normative ethics.

Scholastic view of propaganda and the Occupy Wall Street Protests

Eullul (2010) recognises two major types of propaganda- direct (economic and political) propaganda and indirect (sociological) propaganda. According to this model, political propaganda involves spreading the ideology trough mass media to convince the audience, often the public, to accept some economic or political structure or take part in an action.

On the other hand, Ellul (2010) asserts that sociological or indirect propaganda involves an ideology penetrating into individuals or masses progressively because it is enhanced by the existing political, economic or sociological factors. This form of propaganda is relatively complicated because it produces a progressive adaptation of the community to a certain order of things or concept of relations that eventually moulds the people and make then conform to the particular society. From these scholastic perspectives, direct propaganda is evidently the most applicable form of scholastic view of the Occupy Wall Street campaigns.

Within the context of propaganda and the “Occupy Wall Street movement”, it is important to delve into the concept of “ethos” and how this applies to the capacity of the media to influence the general public. Ethos refers to the manner in which a person is portrayed in an argument; in a way it can be described as a method in which persuaders (in this context the media) present an “image” to people (i.e. the general public) that they are attempting to persuade (Robie 2008). This particular “image” refers to the media’s “character” in that the media is attempting to persuade the public of the righteousness of their statements based on their inherent character.

Thus, ethos can be referred to as a method of convincing other people of the righteousness of a cause or idea on the basis of the image that is being portrayed, in this context the image in question is of the media being a purveyor of unbiased news regarding the events that occur around a person (Robie 2008). However, as seen in the coverage of the “Occupy Wall Street Movement” there is a definite bias in the coverage and portrayal as well as the news that incited the movement in the first place.

Based on this, it can be stated that the general public agreeing to what is being presented to them as being “accurate” due to a projected image is a definite cause for concern since basing it on an organization’s apparent expertise and experience does not immediately mean what they are showcasing is actually correct or unbiased. For example, the media may argue the righteousness of a cause (in this case the Occupy Wall Street Movement) on the basis of their knowledge of the events leading up to it yet this attempt at persuading the general public may in itself be self-serving for the organization that is attempting to persuade its viewers. Ethos, in essence, is a form of “artifice” in that it is created, constructed, etc (Peri 2007).

It is a type of surface image which may in fact have an entirely fictitious/false relationship to what is actually true. Under such a context and comparing it to the coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement, it can clearly be seen that the media utilized its ethos as a supposedly unbiased purveyor of news in order to incite and portray the movement for its own gain.

Using Ellul’s model, it is evident that the Occupy Wall Street campaigns were basically spread through direct propaganda. In this context, it is evident that the mode of campaign used during the occupy wall street campaigns were inclined to political propaganda, although it is evident that social and economic issues like inequality were the root causes of the problem. For instance, the propagandists developed a general theme in the name of “economic inequalities”. Specifically, an array of arguments was set to enhance the theme’s aim of convincing the audience, especially the young people, that their troubles and plight were the products of the economic activities and strategies at the Wall Street, which were particularly manipulated by a few bankers and economic strategies, resulting into inequality (Rowe & Carroll 2014).

For instance, the array of arguments claimed that the rising rates of unemployment, poverty and economic inequalities among the young people were blamed on the strategists at the Wall Street. One example of this can be seen in the campaign posters and pamphlets below which provide evidence that the campaigns were not only political but also based on an array of arguments aimed at supporting the theme of inequality.

Some of the posters used at Occupy Wall Street.
Figure 1: Some of the posters used at Occupy Wall Street.

An analysis of Black’s theory of political propaganda also provides some evidence that the Occupy Wall Street protests had a number of manifest characteristics amounting to political and economic propaganda. For instance, Black (2001) argues that direct political propaganda heavily relies on authority figures and spokespersons at the expense of developing validation for establishing the truth, facts or impressions. In the Wall Street campaigns, the media was the main spokespersons and authoritative figures that influenced and convinced the people to take part in the campaigns (Rowe & Carroll 2014). Whether their claims were true or based on fallacies was not an interest of the public or the media.

Their interest was to achieve immediate goals by creating the people power through propaganda. This relates back to the earlier argument on ethos and how the general public was influenced towards action due to their belief in the ethos of the media at the time.

The slogan “we are the 99%”, which was popularized by the media, was used to communicate the ideology of removing the corrupt, greed and economically oppressive corporations in the financial services sector (Rowe & Carroll 2014). This slogan uses the term “99%” to make the audience believe that they must be part of the 99% because the remaining 1% is composed of the corrupt and greed group at the Wall Street-based financial service sector.

The phrases “let the American Rage begin” and “bring a tent” were commonly used during the OWS protests (Rowe & Carroll 2014). In Ellul’s scholastic theory of propaganda and Black’s perception of the modern propaganda, it is worth noting that these phrases are abstract figures of speech that seek to establish symbolic tropes or truth, conclusions and impressions. In addition, they were used to influence or make the public believe that the protests were the right thing to do at the right time in order to defeat the enemy of inequality.

Poster at Occupy Wall Street.
Figure 2: Poster at Occupy Wall Street (Rowe & Carroll 2014).

Scholastic view of power creation and roles in Occupy Wall Street propaganda

Haugaard (2012) argues that reproduction of power to create social power is more pronounced in complex societies than coercion. At this point, it is worth noting that the US is a complex society, where integration of societies and cultures from different parts of the world has taken place over many years. However, it is worth noting that social order theory, which was created by Parsons (1983) and contributions of other scholars such as Giddens (2005) is one of the most effective models for explaining how power is created through media and media propaganda in the modern context. In this theory, the scholars argue that a complex society like the US gives people the capacity to do things that are not possible to be done when an actor is not a member of the society. The creation of people power in this scholastic perspective is based on the prior knowledge that an action will have a given impact on an individual or group. The existence of social order explains this phenomenon.

In a society where there is social order, it becomes possible for an individual or group to predict the outcomes of an action on another individual or group. In addition, an individual or group gains the capacity to predict the actions of another group or individual in a complex society. Therefore, it is possible for one group or individual to exercise power over another. According to Haugaard (2012), for “A” to exercise power over “B”, using the capacity to predict the actions of B, there must be some process for A to use. In complex societies, coercion is not an important process for A to use. This means that A will attempt to influence some action against B, but devoid of coercion or direct force. As such, the use of information to affect B negatively becomes a major weapon. In this case, the idea of propaganda comes to play.

The American situation during the Occupy Wall Street can be analysed from this perspective. The creation of people power was the main feature that was created through information sharing, which amounts to propaganda. Since the American society is highly complex, it is possible for social groups to predict the outcomes of an action on another group. In addition, it is possible for a group to predict the actions of another based on the prevailing political and socioeconomic conditions.

Pamphlets calling for mass action.
Figure 3: Pamphlets calling for mass action.

Communication and creation of social power: The role of the media in propaganda

A scholastic analysis of strategic communication reveals that information sharing and use plays an important role in the creation of social power rather than using coercion. This goes in line with Haugaard’s view of the creation of social power. According to Hallahan, Holtzhausten, van Ruler, Vercic and Sriramesh (2005), the strategic communication is the purposeful use of information sharing by an organization or institution to fulfil its missions within a given time and space. One of the main types of communication analysed by Hallahan et al. (2005) is the application of strategic communication in politics, which aims at building a consent or consensus on some important issues involving the exercise of power as well as distribution and allocation of social and economic resources.

The use of information to influence masses in voting or taking place in politically driven actions such as protests falls in this category. Political application of strategic communication results into public influence in policy decisions. Much of the information involved in this case lacks truth, but the truthfulness is not as important as the role of information in influencing the target groups. As such, this form of communication amounts to propaganda.

In the Occupy Wall Street case, strategic communication of propagandistic information was evident. The media itself played an important role in promoting awareness after a small group led by Graeber and others launched a “walk on the Wall Street”, calling for an end to the corporate influence on the American political parties, national elections and institutions of the federal and state governments. For instance, the popular online video sharing media YouTube was used to feature recorded clips of the protests as well as impressive calls for action against the evils of the corrupt corporations in the government.

These protests portrayed a number of characteristics that provide evidence of similarity with the manifest characteristics identified by Black (2001). For instance, they attempted to reduce the situations into simplistic cause and effect relations that were readily identifiable. This worked to ignore the wide range of causes of the problems facing the US. In fact, the protest leaders made their subjects believe that the actions taking place in the corporate and financial offices within the Wall Street region were the absolute cause of the socioeconomic inequalities and that removing the corrupt individuals would provide an absolute solution to the problems.


Overall, it can be stated that the “Occupy Wall Street” movement can be considered a manifestation of the influence of the media on the perception and thus the impression of the general public towards particular ideas and events. Evidence of this can be seen in its application of biased reporting which manifested in the irrational exuberance of the general public which brought about protests that had no definite goal in mind. It is due to this that it can be stated that the Occupy Wall Street movement” can be considered as evidence of the power of media “ethos” towards controlling the general public towards a particular end.

Reference List

Black, J, 2001, “Semantics and ethics of propaganda,” Journal of mass media ethics, vol. 16, no. 2, pp. 121-137. Web.

Ellul, J, 2010, Propaganda: The formation of men’s attitudes, Knopf: New York, NY. Web.

Giddens, A, 2005, “Power in the recent writings of Talcott Parsons”, Sociology, vol. 2, pp. 257-272. Web.

Hallahan, K, Holtzhausten D, Van Ruler B, Vercic D & Sriramesh, K, 2012, “Defining strategic communication,” International journal of strategic communication, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 3-35. Web.

Haugaard, M, 2012, “Reflections on seven ways of creating power,” European Journal of Scoail Theory, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 87-113. Web.

Parsons, T, 1983, “On the concept of political power,” American philosophical society, vol. 107, no. 3, pp. 232-262. Web.

Peri, Y 2007, ‘Intractable Conflict and the Media’, Israel Studies, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 79-102. Web.

Robie, D 2008, ‘Frontline reporting, ethos and perception: Media challenges in the South Pacific’, Asia Pacific Viewpoint, vol. 49, no. 2, pp. 213-227. Web.

Rowe, J & Carroll, M, 2014, “Reform or Radicalism: Left Social Movements from the Battle of Seattle to Occupy Wall Street,” New Political Science, vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 26-39. Web.

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