I am usually a strong proponent of using social media to enact social change and spread awareness to social justice issues. I think that it is important to any movement to have a strong social media presence, because social media can be a very effective tool to educate people, put pressure on our leaders, and show solidarity. For example, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has brought widespread attention to the plight of Black Americans suffering because of police brutality and the injustices of the criminal justice system. The Keystone Pipeline, with its own ardent social media protest, ended up being vetoed last year by President Barack Obama, much to many environmentalists´ delight. However, in the case of the Dakota Access Pipeline and its negative impact on Native Americans, the social media movement of false ¨check-ins¨ on Facebook may purportedly be doing more harm than good. In the case of police involvement, that may be true, but any social media initiative that brings attention to an issue is, nonetheless, powerful.
According to daplpipelinefacts.com, The Dakota Access Pipeline Project is a new approximate 1,172-mile, 30-inch diameter pipeline that will connect the rapidly expanding Bakken and Three Forks production areas in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois. The project has propelled months of resistance and protests from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe as well as members of almost 100 more tribes in both the U.S. and Canada. The pipeline, while being a more cost-effective way of transporting domestically produced oil through the US, would overall endanger the lives of Native Americans living on that land. The pipeline project is projected to bring millions of dollars into local economies as well as up to 12,000 construction jobs, according to NBC News.
However, the oil spill would contaminate the water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, who also claim that it would destroy sacred ancestral sites on their land. Standing Rock Sioux chairman, David Archambault II says that the Missouri River, which is a prominent water source for their reservation, would be permanently contaminated by oil spills from the pipeline; he calls it to be rerouted.
The protests have been voraciously increasing in intensity since this spring, leading to an increased military presence in the area. Recently, a viral Facebook alerted people that the Morton County Shreiff´s department has been using Facebook ¨check ins¨ to track down protestors. The poster urged people to falsely check in to Standing Rock in order to overwhelm the police and obscure the real protesters. Thousands of people on facebook checked in to Standing Rock that day alone.
However, the false check-ins, for all their good intentions, could possibly harm protesters more than aid them. According to Facebook user Morgan Sennhauser, whose post about this issue went viral last week, the check-ins confusing the police can actually give them more leverage for a formal subpoena of Facebook´s data to get to the actual protesters. The Morton County police would then have a list of everyone there with a telecom device, making the protesters more unsafe than ever before. She goes on to write, ¨The biggest use of the fake check-in in America was a couple days before Occupy Wall St. got shut down, and about the same thing happened – the fake check-ins, while fake, were a good way of getting a list of people tangentially associated with the protest, and became a good operating list of donors. Since then it’s been done several times, usually to very little effect beyond speeding up court hearings related to the event.”
It is unfortunate that the check-ins are ineffective in their original purpose — protecting protesters on the ground — but interestingly enough, they still did lend a helping hand to the #NoDAPL movement. The Facebook check-ins made the Dakota Access Pipeline a major trending topic on Facebook and Twitter and were a gateway to education on the issue at hand. It drew much more attention to the struggles of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. Major news outlets started paying attention to the protests to the pipeline, beaming the movement to an even wider audience.
It is important to exercise caution in social media movements and to be aware of all the facts involved in protesting. Facebook check-ins are not necessarily effective in deterring military presence upon protesters, but they were a fantastic medium for shining light on the #NoDAPL social justice/environmentalist movement and should be appreciated for the effort.