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“N.J. Student Protests Showcase Facebook’s Role in Mobilizing Social Movements,” the headline said. On April 27, 2010, thousands of high school students across New Jersey walked out of their schools to protest budget cuts for secondary education. The mass protest began with a single Facebook page, “Protest NJ Education Cuts—State Wide School Walk Out,” set up by Michelle Ryan Lauto, a first-year student at Pace University, who had graduated a year earlier from a state high school. Her Facebook site quickly attracted 18,000 members as word spread about the walkout. Students used Facebook to discuss news media contacts and other strategies for their protests, and Lauto logged on to tell everyone to keep their walkouts and rallies peaceful. In Newark, New Jersey, students also tweeted and texted to make sure that their citywide walkouts all occurred at the same time.
Lauto recognized how much Facebook and other social media had helped the students’ cause: “You can use these social networking tools for very positive things—it’s not just about kids putting up photos from their weekend party.” She added, “All I did was make a Facebook page. Anyone who has an opinion could do that and have their opinion heard. I would love to see kids in high school step up and start their own protests and change things in their own way.” (Heyboer, 2010; Hu, 2010)Heyboer, K. (2010, April 28). N.J. student protests showcase Facebook’s role in mobilizing social movements. Newark Star-Ledger. Retrieved from http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/2004/facebook_student_protest_mobilize.html; Hu, W. (2010, April 27). In New Jersey, a civics lesson in the Internet age. The New York Times, p. A19.
Chapter 20 "Social Change and the Environment" noted that protest is an important source of social change. As the student walkouts across New Jersey illustrate, protest often involves mass numbers of individuals united in a cause; they sometimes know each other but often do not. Other kinds of mass behavior also exist, including crowds, riots, and rumors. These forms of mass behavior can also promote social change.
This chapter examines the social phenomena called collective behavior and social movements. These phenomena are a common feature of modern society and often attract much public attention when they occur. They also often arouse controversy because they tend to “shake things up” by upsetting the status quo. Accordingly, we will discuss the many types of collective behavior and social movements to get a sense of their origins, dynamics, and impact.