Activists booted from the account say the dispute began when Justin Wedes, who’s been involved with OWS since its outset, attempted to stop the group from using the word “genocide” in describing the recent deaths of Palestinians in Gaza.
Emails provided to the Daily Dot show that one former contributor was recently contacted by Wedes and told that his use of the word “genocide” was undermining the credibility of the @OccupyWallStNYC twitter account. After the scolded activist relayed the message to others in the group, Wedes was accused of “censoring dissent.”
What started as a complaint about censorship, however, quickly escalated into a discussion over alleged abuses of OWS media by Wedes, who took over the account after AdBusters editor and Occupy Wall Street co-creator Micah White founded it in 2011. The chief complaint against Wedes was that he consistently violated the group’s rules, using the account with over 174,000 followers to promote his personal accounts and projects.
“If he had problems with the way it was run, he should have voiced concerns to us directly or quit,” a former contributor, who asked not to be identified, told the Daily Dot.
Wedes did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
After assuming control, Wedes retweeted a personal message saying that he’d “temporarily shut down” the account and would “return it to the hands of responsible stewards.” The public response to his tweet was predominantly negative. One well-known OWS activist responded: “If it is handed to the responsible... that means you are leaving right?” Another claimed the account had been reported to Twitter as compromised.
Former contributors say the hijacking wasn’t immediately revealed to the public because the group hoped Wedes would “come to his senses.” When it became clear access wouldn’t be restored, the activists began writing a statement condemning his actions. On Tuesday afternoon the statement was released, labelling Wedes the “Wolf of Occupy Wall Street,” and accusing him of widespread abuse.
From the OWS statement:
“Justin has violated our basic principles of organizing within Occupy, and betrayed our basic sense of integrity and decency. We disavow any connection between this individual and the movement at large. We believe he means to dominate the media presence of Occupy to build his personal brand and reputation at the expense of people's movements wherever they spontaneously arise, from NYC to Detroit to Tunisia to Egypt to Turkey and beyond.”
In a private email sent to his fellow contributors, Wedes seemed to acknowledge his use of the movement’s account to promote his own projects and boasted about his disregard for the group’s consensus model.
According to a former contributor, the group operates on rules intended to preserve the account’s legitimacy and prohibits users from promoting their own accounts. When asked if he’d used the OWS account to send traffic to a personal blog, Wedes responded: “It's a beautiful tweet and if it breaks the rules so be it. I break the rules in real life sometimes, too.”
Wedes has broken a few “real life” rules in the past. In 2011, he resigned from his position as a science teacher at a Brooklyn high school after forging his supervisor’s signature on a $4,725 grant application, according to the New York Post.
“Perhaps what you have a problem with is not being able to be supreme ruler,” a contributor emailed the group last Friday, hours before Wedes assumed control. “This shit has gone way too far and for far too long. It's time to do something about it,” a second contributor replied, adding: “I'm just so fucking sick of it. I think we all are. It hurts this team, it hurts this account, and it hurts the whole occupy movement.”
Asked on Tuesday what they’d like for Wedes to do now, a former contributor told the Daily Dot: “He should restore access to the collective that has operated it via consensus for years.”
At time of writing (3:45 p.m. EST, Tuesday), Wedes had not published a public statement.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the original founder of the @OccupyWallStNYC account. It was created by Adbusters editor Micah White.
Photo via Matt/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed