If you’ve spent any time on Facebook today, odds are that a sizable portion of your newsfeed has been taken up with people checking in at Standing Rock, North Dakota, site of the ongoing protests against the Dakota Access oil pipeline.
So what gives? Are all your friends, family, and workplace acquaintances actually headed to the upper-midwest? Not really. What you’re likely seeing is the latest viral activist meme spreading in real-time across your Facebook wall.
Like most viral movements, the Standing Rock check in trend is tough to pin down, both in terms of origin, and impact, but here’s what we know.
According to internet fact-checking site Snopes, people began checking in en masse at Standing Rock on the morning of October 31, in response to a rumor that police were using Facebook to monitor the activists protesting against the pipeline’s construction. The goal, according to the meme’s call to action, is to “overwhelm and confuse” law enforcement by making it impossible to determine who is really protesting on site, and who is simply standing in solidarity.
So is this just the latest click-and-forget-it gesture, or is there something real happening here?
According to Snopes, it’s unlikely police are actually using Facebook location check-in data to track protesters in the first place, with a representative from the Morton County Sheriff’s department telling the site that check-in data offered no real intelligence value. What’s more, given that it’s no secret that law enforcement does, in fact, monitor social media, it’s hard to imagine in this context that seasoned activists would knowingly post incriminating data about themselves.
That doesn’t mean, however, the gesture is meaningless. Even if it offers only minimal tactical cover for the protesters on the ground in North Dakota, checking in at Standing Rock still serves to amplify their cause and show that—digitally, at least—people all over the world are literally standing with the protesters. What’s more, despite the MCSD’s protestations over using check-in data, it’s clear that law enforcement working to contain and detain anti-pipeline activists have, in fact, resorted to a number of extreme measures to do so—among them, declaring a no-fly zone above activist camps and unleashing sonic crowd control weapons to break up protests.
It also remains unclear where this particular meme originated. When contacted by Snopes, anti-DAPL organizers at the Sacred Stone Camp confirmed that, while they didn’t start the social strategy, they appreciated the show of solidarity.
So, feel free to tell Facebook you’re “at” Standing Rock, if you feel so inclined. You might really be helping the activists on the ground. And, at the very least, it’s a show of support for a progressive movement fighting for native rights.
But, if you really want to put your money where your mouth is, hop a plane to North Dakota and check in for real.