On Monday, supporters of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline began a viral campaign enticing people to “check in” to the reservation on Facebook as a way to “overwhelm and confuse” local law enforcement.
However, there is no evidence that this tactic is effective, particularly as the Morton County Sheriff’s Department expressly said on its own Facebook page that it “is not and does not follow Facebook check-ins for the protest camp or any location. This claim / rumor is absolutely false.”
In recent months, activists have been protesting at the site on the border of North and South Dakota in an attempt to halt a planned oil pipeline that many believe would damage the local water supply and desecrate tribal lands.
This Facebook plea is similar to calls in 2009, during the controversial presidential election in Iran, where supporters of the Green Movement urged people to change their Twitter location to Tehran. Similarly, there was no indication that this action mitigated local Iranian authorities’ ability to arrest protesters.
The Sacred Stone Camp, one of the primary organizers of the Dakota protesters who are on the site, told Ars in a statement:
There is no solid line between “organizers” and others—this is a movement, not an organization. There are many camps and points of contact, we can only verify that it did not originate from the Sacred Stone Camp FB page. We support the tactic, and think it is a great way to express solidarity. The copy and paste technique has created a unique way of generating numbers of support—it’s more impactful to see thousands of our friends take the time to create a unique status update.
While it is true that law enforcement can and does comb public social media posts during protests, it’s not clear what effect this would have when officers could simply go to the Standing Rock site and arrest people in person.
“It is worth investigating if it can have any impact but this viral campaign is important,” Gabriella Coleman, a professor at McGill University in Montreal who has written extensively on online activism, told Ars. “Even beyond the solidarity it so clearly displays: if people don’t even know that police can use social media to track activists, even if they are not doing so in this case, this campaign is an ideal moment to teach others about how this tactic of surveillance can be deployed.”
The MCSD’s phone line was busy when Ars tried to call it multiple times. Facebook did also not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment. If looking to get involved beyond a Facebook post, supporters of the Standing Rock Sioux can donate to Sacred Stone Camp here.
The full text that is being circulated reads as follows:
The Morton County Sherriff’s Department has been using Facebook check-ins to find out who is at Randing Stock 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.
Will you join me in Standing Rock?
If you’re sharing your location at Randing Stock (which you should be doing)
1) make it public
2) make the clarification post separate, and so that only your friends can see it
3) don’t clarify on your check in, message friends who say “stay safe!” to let them know what’s up — the stay safe posts are more convincing / confusing for p*lice
4) copy paste to share clarification messages (like this one) because making it public blows our cover
5) say “Randing Stock” in clarification posts so that when they filter out / search those terms, your post is visible to the right people