You may have noticed your friends posting their Facebook location as Standing Rock, N.D., even though you just saw them hung over in the café this morning. Hundreds of thousands of people are virtually checking into Standing Rock to show their solidarity with the cause and confuse police. But is it effective?
The message being shared on Facebook says, in some form, “The Morton County Sheriff’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. Water Protectors are calling on EVERYONE to check in at SR to overwhelm and confuse them.”
While this seems to be a noble tactic, there is no evidence that the Morton County Sherriff’s Department is even using Facebook check-ins. The department posted as much on their Facebook page this past Monday, stating, “The Morton County Sheriff’s Department is not and does not follow Facebook check-ins for the protest camp or any location. This claim/rumor is absolutely false.” Even if police were using Facebook to locate protest camps, no person is required to have their location visible on Facebook. One must actively “check in” at a location before the public can see their precise location. If the protestors wanted to keep camps secret via Facebook, they would just refrain from posting their location.
Beyond attempting to confuse the Sheriff’s Department, the check-ins do show solidarity with Standing Rock Indian Reservation and the anti-pipeline protestors. This is helpful for raising awareness of the issue. It also might make the residents of Standing Rock feel more supported. Beyond that, virtually checking in to Standing Rock via Facebook has no effect on delaying or preventing the pipeline’s construction.
The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), is intended to transport hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil per day from North Dakota to a storage facility in Illinois. The proposed route for the pipeline goes through land that is sacred to Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, including burial grounds, as well as through the reservation’s main water source. The land permitted for the pipeline was taken from the tribe in 1958 without their consent.
The incredible disrespect for the Sioux Tribe is undeniably racist—a pipeline would never be permitted to disrupt a cemetery. Additionally, the proposed pipeline would disrupt water sources on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and cross the Missouri River. This could pollute water that supplies the entire reservation. As we’ve seen in Flint, a lack of clean drinking water is not an easy fix. Environmental activists are also concerned about the effect that this pipeline will have—an oil spill from the pipeline would have disastrous ecological consequences.
The construction of DAPL is clearly problematic on many levels. Is your Facebook check-in helping the situation?
There are millions of local and global causes that need support. Social media undoubtedly helps these causes gain momentum, but also creates a dangerous overload of information.
Every day, a new cause appears on Facebook—a child in need, a rescue shelter, relief for a natural disaster. How callous must we be to scroll past it? But we all do exactly that. It would be impossible for one person to support everyone in the world, or even to support a day’s worth of social media causes. This surplus of tragedy and information is overwhelming. We might feel guilty for an instant after scrolling past a cause, but that guilt is immediately alleviated by the next video, post or picture that distracts us.
Checking in to Standing Rock seems to be just another way to alleviate that guilt. Without donating time, money or much effort at all, anyone can virtually pronounce their support for a cause they may know nothing about. The irony is inescapable—by virtually being at Standing Rock, we alleviate any need to actually be present at Standing Rock.
When we see a tragedy occurring, of course we want to help. Humans are naturally compassionate; it is this very compassion that leads us on a guilt trip. We want to help, but we don’t have the time or funds or energy, so we feel guilty for not helping. With a Facebook post, we can move on with our lives, saying that we made a difference.
Over a million dollars have been raised to support the protestors. As social media attention increased, so did donations. This is undeniable. But just checking into Standing Rock does not require a donation, a full understanding of the situation or any tangible assistance to the cause beyond showing solidarity. In some cases, the Facebook check-ins are just a way to half-heartedly support a cause.
Whether this lackadaisical support is fueled by social pressure, guilt or compassion, it is representative of our reaction to a complete overload of constant tragic information. How do we balance living a healthy and fulfilling life with all of this going on?
A good place to start is with honesty. If the DAPL controversy is not particularly relevant to you, that is OK. There is no pressure to support a cause that you do not relate to or care about. That there are so many ongoing causes that require attention can perhaps be looked at as a good thing, since any individual is bound to find a cause they can pledge their full support too. It is better to whole-a** one cause that you find worthwhile, than to half-a** a few dozen that you feel required to be a part of.