Final Paper | How Did Social Media Effect Occupy UC Davis?

As I was searching for a paper topic, one was unfolding before me over the Thanksgiving holiday. I am writing about how social media played a role in the Occupy UC Davis movement and pepper spray incident that happened in the city I live. Maybe you heard about it on the news. My family in Wisconsin called the day after students were pepper sprayed and were surprised Davis made the national news. So, below is my proposal:

YouTube videos of the pepper spray incident shed light on campus police taking extreme measures to clear away non-violent protesters.

Education is very important to the citizens of the State of California. For a long time, tuition had been free or very inexpensive to residents of the state who were accepted at the University of California (UC) System. It is part of the California culture that low-cost higher education is a right and not a privilege. Within the past years due to a major budget crisis, the state has significantly increased tuition for its UC schools. A significant increase in tuition was one of the main reasons students have recently protested as part of the Occupy UC Davis movement.

While tuition increases have been protested in the past, the Occupy UC Davis movement has gained special attention due to social media. On November 18, campus police used pepper spray as self-defense on non-violent student demonstrators. The pepper spray incident was caught on video and uploaded to YouTube. The video went viral, and it gained national and international attention as the campus community and nation scrutinizes what went wrong. The incident even caught the attention of Jon Stewart, satirist and host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central who mocked the event on his show, stating there were better ways than pepper spray to get the attention of college students, like free tacos or Green Day in the quad.

College students are heavy social media users. Student protesters are heavily utilizing social media, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, creating wikis, and blogging. Social media gave them power to communicate what happened, and because of its viral nature, news of the event spread quickly to many people, including people across the country and across the globe. This is a paradigm shift in power from few distributing information to many, to many creating and distributing information. 

Campus administration and others with high authority roles on campus, including Chancellor Linda Katehi, do not implement social media the same way the students do. People like the chancellor have less time available to interface with social media and tend to rely on more traditional communication devices, including email, press releases, and websites. The chancellor’s staff assists her with communication duties, including sending and answering emails, facilitating her blog, and writing speeches. While Chancellor Katehi emailed the campus community after the pepper spray incident occurred, several hours had passed while her email statement made its way through the appropriate channels before it could be sent to all students, faculty and staff. While her email had an air of authority, the lag in time opened the opportunity for information from other sources to fill in the gaps of what happened. Timeliness of a message is important. Breaking the story first, whether completely accurate or not, is worth more now than it ever use to be due to social media.

There are positive and negative consequences of social media, including the speed and accuracy of the message. This includes accuracy of the message context. Other important issues include an increased participation and awareness, increased two-way interaction between sender and receiver, and an increased authority given to messages that appear online. By examining these issues, I hope to better understand social media’s role in the events that unfolded surrounding the Occupy UC Davis pepper spray incident.


Posted on December 16, 2011, in Social Media, Society and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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