If you were on Facebook over the weekend, you probably saw among the Halloween pictures and election posts at least one friend check in at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Most of these friends, however, were likely not in North Dakota. According to the Los Angeles Times, over 1.3 million people have checked in to the reservation after a post asking all Facebook users to stand in solidarity with the water protectors at Standing Rock went viral. The call for check-ins claimed that Morton County Sheriff’s Department had been using social media in order to target protests and if more people checked in, police would be less able to disrupt the demonstrations.
While Snopes has declared the claims made in the viral Facebook post to be “unproven” and the Sheriff’s Department has denied that the check-ins will affect its work, the check-ins have succeeded in mobilizing support for the anti-Dakota Access Pipeline movement. The Dakota Access Pipeline, an oil pipeline that, if completed, would stretch 1,172 miles from North Dakota to Illinois, was originally slated to cross the Missouri River just north of Bismarck. However, according to the Bismarck Tribune, this plan was rejected due to the “threat to Bismarck’s water supply” and is now supposed to cross the river near the Standing Rock reservation. It comes as no surprise, then, that members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe are outraged and doing everything in their power to halt the pipeline’s construction. Constructing the pipeline on these ancestral lands could have devastating effects both to the culture of the Sioux and to the environment.
Though 412 protesters have been arrested as of Oct. 30, it has been difficult to ensure coverage of the demonstrations. Support from celebrities like actress Shailene Woodley has been somewhat able to garner attention, and certain aspects of the protests, like the warrant out for the arrest of Democracy Now! journalist Amy Goodman, have received coverage from mainstream outlets. However, overall, the events at Standing Rock have been underreported, or even ignored. According to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, neither NBC or ABC have so much as mentioned the protests.
Social media has, therefore, been necessary in raising awareness about the protests and ensuring the water protectors have the resources they need to continue the fight. The hashtag #NoDAPL is filled with pictures of a militarized police force closing in on protesters. Facebook users like Atsa E’sha Hoferer have utilized the site’s livestreaming feature to report in real time the actions on the ground.
The result of online movements has been successful. A Facebook Live post Hoferer shared on Oct. 27 has been viewed 161,000 times. Despite claims that it was a hoax, the Facebook check-ins have been successful insofar as they have forced outlets like The New York Times to cover the story. Most significantly, perhaps, the Sacred Stone camp, where protesters have been staying on the reservation, has been sustained in large part due to successful crowdfunding. The official GoFundMe for the camp began at $5,000. In the last six months, however, over $1 million has been raised to support camp supplies. This does not include a separate crowdfunding campaign to “support the legal defense of warriors protecting land, water, and human rights,” which has also raised over a million dollars.
As tensions rise between police and protectors, the people on the ground at Standing Rock need all of the support they can get. The abuse and degradation of indigenous land and the tribes that live there is not unprecedented, and it must be condemned. So while it is still unconfirmed whether checking in to the protest actually deters police action on the ground, the support and solidarity shown through these check-ins is invaluable.
Lena Melillo is a senior majoring in philosophy, politics and law and gender studies. Her column, “’Pop Politics,” runs every Thursday.