Your Facebook timeline is probably flooding with check-ins from “Standing Rock, ND”. Chances are your friends are actually in O’Neill Library or the Rat. So what’s the point? This is a new type of social activism we haven’t typically seen in the past. For those who are unfamiliar with the current situation, demonstrators are camping out throughout the Standing Rock Indian Reservation to protest the construction of a $3.7 billion pipeline. “Protesters — including some members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe — say it threatens the environment and will destroy Native American burial sites, prayer sites and artifacts.” The protests have led to a series of arrests throughout the past week. As most social activism goes, the hashtags“IStandWithStandingRock” and “noDAPL” (Dakota Access Pipeline) are trending on Twitter and Facebook. But on Monday morning, Facebook was taken over by a “trending check-in”. An intricate two-part viral post was created to encourage people to check into Standing Rock, ND on Facebook. The community was told that the local Sheriff’s Department was using Facebook check-ins to track and target protestors. In order to create chaos and confusion, the post suggested that people check-in to make it difficult for the police to determine who was actually in Standing Rock vs. artificial check ins.
Post 1: Check-in
Post 2: Explanation of Check-in
“for those sharing their location in a move of solidarity:
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*lic3. 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
The Clarification: 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. SO Water Protecters 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?”
Often times, social activism is criticized for not creating a tangible impact. In this case, by Monday morning, over 600,000 people felt that a simple check-in could contribute to the cause. As of Tuesday morning, over 1.4 million people checked in to Standing Rock. A few hours after these posts went viral, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department posted the following message on Facebook.
This post created even more controversy and backlash from protestors. Many argued that even if the police were tracking protestors, they would deny it. The Morton Country Sheriffs department stated that this type of Facebook tracking wasn’t valuable information and that they were more likely to use geolocations from cellphones. Where did this concept of social media tracking begin? According to BBC, “the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported that police had been using social media to track protesters during the Ferguson and Baltimore riots last year”. The ACLU concluded that the police used information from a data-providing company called Geofeedia. Since this incident, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have shutoff access to Geofeedia.
The source of this viral post is currently unknown (although this could quickly change as the story continues to develop). Regardless of the Sheriffs Department’s actions, the check-in was intended as a sign of support to the people protesting at Standing Rock. However, as stated by the viral post, “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”. Is this really concrete action? How does this differ from a hashtag and which is more effective?
As stated by TechCrunch, the use of these check-ins reveals a big flaw in Facebook’s trending algorithm. These algorithms are a key component of social activism in determining which hashtags are worthy of becoming viral.
“A massive social media protest is exploding on Facebook, not Twitter for a change, yet Facebook’s dehumanized Trending system wasn’t picking it up.”
A few hours after the article was published, TechCrunch posted an update:
Update 3:15pm PT: About two hours after we published this post, Facebook is finally showing a Trend for #NoDAPL, which stands for “No Dakota Access Pipeline.” The fact that it says 790,000 people are talking about the Trend, between 2X and 100X the chatter of other Facebook Trends, shows just how late Facebook was to surfacing the latest in the Standing Rock protest saga.
Perhaps the use of check-ins rather than hashtags caused this delay. In order for check-ins to be an effective form of social activism, trending algorithms need to be updated to be more humanized and inclusive.