Monthly Archives: November 2016

Checking-in at Standing Rock

For weeks I’ve seen little news snippets about the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), the 1,172-mile, 30-inch diameter pipeline that would connect North Dakota to Illinois. While the project’s official website touts that construction will create jobs and “enable domestically produced light sweet crude oil from North Dakota to reach major refining markets in a more direct, cost-effective, safer and environmentally responsible manner,” DAPL comes with a lot of problems, too.

The underground pipeline – which “quietly received full regulatory permission” from Congress back in August – would pass through the lands of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The tribe, along with environmental groups, have been protesting the pipeline since April. Their concerns are numerous and serious.

As the Atlantic reports, DAPL could threaten the tribe’s sole water source and “the pipeline will pass through and likely destroy Native burial sites and sacred places.” And if those concerns weren’t significant enough, the tribe didn’t have a voice in the process leading up to the pipeline’s approval.

Furthermore, federal and state attempts to break the protest have been reminiscent – at least to me – of the bad old days of of union busting. Reports of police with military equipment raiding camps and wounding civilian protestors have become common. Whether you agree with the protestors or not – military force is probably not the best way to resolve things.

And this brings me to what motivated me to write this post today.

As a busy grad student only vaguely aware of the world around me, I’d heard about DAPL but in all honesty, hadn’t really paid that much attention to it. I’d seen a few stories here and there – mostly complains about how the mainstream media wasn’t covering this story sufficiently.

Then yesterday, I saw an explosion of interest. Suddenly everyone was checking in to Standing Rock in solidarity with the DAPL protestors. The reasoning for this struck me as a little Mark-Zuckerberg-wants-to-steal-your-data-ish:

The Morton County Sherriff’s Department has been using Facebook check-ins to find out who is at Standing Rock in order to target them in attempts to disrupt the prayer camps. So, Water Protectors are calling on EVERYONE to check in at Standing Rock, ND to overwhelm and confuse them. This is concrete action that can protect people putting their bodies and well-beings on the line that we can do without leaving our homes.

Hence all the check-ins.

Now, here’s the interesting thing: Snopes, the source of all knowledge when it comes to these things, reached out both to the Morton County Sherriff’s Department and to the protestors, ultimately listing the meme as “unproven.”

For it’s part, the Sherriff’s department strongly denied using Facebook check-ins as a tool for anything.

Meanwhile, protestors at Sacred Stone Camp said they did not originate the message, but that “there is no doubt that law enforcement comb social media for incriminating material and monitor communications.”

Finally, they added, “we support the tactic, and think it is a great way to express solidarity.”

It seems unlikely that the fake check-ins would actually serve the stated purpose – as Snopes points out, check-ins are voluntary and “if police were using geolocation tools based on mobile devices, remote check-ins would not confuse or overwhelm them” – but the message of solidarity has been loud.

I heard more about DAPL yesterday and from more people then I have the entire time the protest has been going on. The Facebook mention even got a quick mention on the morning news.

Whether or not the Sheriff’s department is using check-ins for targeting, they have been targeting protestors, a reality the possibly erroneous Facebook meme has brought to the fore.

We all know those fake messages about Facebook removing their privacy settings just won’t go away and however this Standing Rock check-in meme originated – it strikes me as a brilliant organizing move perfect suited for today’s digital environment.