Are Standing Rock Facebook Check-Ins Helping? Yes, But Not In The Way You Might Think

When you logged onto Facebook on Monday, chances are you saw a feed full of friends checking in at Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota, where people have been protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. A viral Facebook post claimed that checking into the reservation in solidarity would confuse law enforcement officials who were trying to crack down on the protestors in the area. But are Standing Rock Facebook check-ins helping? Not necessarily in the way that the Facebook post promised, but they seem to be beneficial to the protests nonetheless.

Over the past few months, thousands have joined in solidarity to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline, a $3.7 billion project that its opponents say will harm the environment and encroach on Native American territory, potentially affecting Native American sacred sites and water. The message on Monday that prompted thousands of check-ins read,

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.

However, the Morton County Sheriff's Department quickly refuted the post, saying on its own Facebook page,

In response to the latest rumor / false claim circulating on social media we have the following response: 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.

So checking-in didn't actually confuse law enforcement. But that doesn't mean that everyone who pressed the button did it for naught. The viral check-in story certainly raised awareness. Some of the people who saw the check-ins on their feed and didn't know what they meant likely did some research on the pipeline. In the wake of increased attention, activists spread the word about alternative ways to help, like donating to the protest camp's legal defense fund. And tons of major news outlets reported on the check-ins, meaning that the protests got increased media coverage. That's especially helpful now, since the protests have been boiling over into tension in recent days, with over 100 protestors arrested last week by police wearing riot gear.

Finally, the check-ins showed the protestors that even people who couldn't travel out to stand with them in person still stood with them in spirit, an important reminder as they continue to fight the pipeline.