Monday morning, people’s Facebook feeds were flooded with check-ins to Standing Rock, North Dakota. People thought that by checking in, they were aiding protestors attempting to block the construction of the North Dakota Access Pipeline, which could pollute water supplies to several Native American communities in the region. The posts aimed to help protestors who are physically on the front line squaring off against authorities by confusing police officers who were allegedly using Facebook to monitor protest activity. But unfortunately, the whole thing appears to be another viral Facebook hoax — neither the police nor the protestors think that Facebook check-in activity was playing a large role in the conflict. Still, if you went ahead and checked in, don’t worry: The protest’s leaders certainly don’t mind extra attention going to their cause. It’s just not part of any grand scheme to fool the police on social media.
According to the viral Facebook post, the the Morton County Sheriff’s Department was tracking people through location check-ins on the social network. The post suggested if people flooded the Standing Rock Reservation, Sacred Stone Camp, and other nearby locations with check-ins, the authorities would be less able to track individual protestors. But a police officer explained to Snopes that authorities were not using check-ins as a source of information. And if they were, geolocation tools would easily be able to see who was posting from Standing Rock as opposed to from their phone in Los Angeles.
Furthermore, a representative from Sacred Stone Camp told Snopes that the Facebook post did not originate from their official Facebook page. They did note that there are a variety of camps though — meaning that it’s possible a protester did start the movement even under the false pretense of it disrupting authorities.
Max Grossfeld, a political reporter for North Dakota Fox Affiliate KFYR-TV, pointed out in a Facebook post that the protests are not happening on the Standing Rock Reservation, or at least anywhere near the place most people were checking in. Most of them are happening at camps “on the border between the reservation and Morton County.”
These posts might not be doing much to palpably help protestors, but the Sacred Stone Camp representative also said that they “think it is a great way to express solidarity.” And that is definitely true. With how prevalent the post is on Facebook, people are likely doing some research into the topic. It’s catching people’s attention and hopefully that leads them to learning about what these protestors are fighting for. The protests have been going on for months now, but this is perhaps the most buzz that’s been generated by everyday folk.
If people are interested in assisting in more concrete ways, they can donate money and supplies to the Sacred Stone Camp. There is a GoFundMe set up for financial contributions that will be put toward camp necessities and a FundRazr page to raise money for legal fees. People can also contact their government leaders by calling them or tweeting at them. A 2015 study from the Congressional Management Foundation found that it only takes about 30 people responding to a legislator’s tweet to take notice of the issue at hand.
While it might take a viral hoax to get people paying attention to a very real issue, at least these check-ins are leading to substantive conversations about the North Dakota Pipeline. And if they’re hoping to read more about protests, the NYC Stands for Standing Rock committee has put together a resource guide to bring everyone up to speed about the ongoing situation.