A Facebook status began to gain momentum on Monday, Oct. 31.
Going viral within hours, this message advocated for supporters to “check-in” via Facebook to the Standing Rock location.
In July 2016, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe filed a lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers over a proposed pipeline that would intersect sacred Sioux land, traveling underneath the Missouri River and serving as a potential threat to the water of the tribe. Shortly after the suit was filed, organized demonstrations at Standing Rock began to take place.
I’m sure I was not the first person to be confused when a peer whom I had class later that day checked in that he was in North Dakota. I knew he was actively involved in matters of social justice, but this seemed to be a dramatic act of support on his behalf, and I was impressed. However, moments later, as I navigated my feed, I saw other friends checking in, and realized that this was in fact a mode of subtle cyber-support, rather than full-fledged and physical activism.
Armchair activism has noticeably been on the rise as social media and technology continue to become the popular and frequented vehicles of dialogue. I certainly am guilty of employing my social media platforms in politically vocal manners, especially in the heated and most times, painful moments of the presidential election.
Social media is an incredible resource for utilizing the pleasures of the First Amendment, but when it comes to employing them as a method of activism, I frequently wonder, how far is too far?
Videos, pictures and written testaments of the encounters at Standing Rock reveal the perilous, and sometimes dangerous realities of being an activist. Members of the Standing Rock tribe, as well as their proximal allies, are being hosed, shot with rubber bullets, pepper sprayed and arrested. Police have employed dogs, concussion cannons and other tactics to deter the protesting. Those who have chosen to be present for the protests are tacitly agreeing to the physical, mental, emotional and legal risks of activism.
Solidarity is a powerful and important method of allegiance, but criticism on behalf of the recent Facebook check-ins has stemmed from the credibility of the call to action.
The post itself claimed “The Morton County Sheriff’s Department has been using Facebook check-ins to … disrupt the prayer camps … Water Protectors are calling on [everyone] to check-in … overwhelm and confuse [the police].”
Although the Facebook check-ins seem to have no negative effect, it is unclear that they have served in providing any material benefit to those struggling daily for clean water and preserved sacred land. And, while there is certainly praise to be had in the role of social media as a platform for activism to an extent, specifically in the Standing Rock protests, there is an element of irony, and perhaps some appropriation, in the act of “checking in” at Standing Rock from the comfort of one’s home.
Checking in on Facebook as if you are physically present at the protests and putting your livelihood on the line downplays the great sacrifices made by those physically present at the site of the protest.
I give the benefit of the doubt to my peers who partook in this media movement, and believe that their intent was good. However, there are a multitude of ways that we as allies can stand with Standing Rock that provide very real and tangible help.
Allies can donate monetarily at Standingrock.org, and can contact the offices of Sens. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), as well as our local representatives to express concern over DAPL.
In all facets of life, and most certainly in activism, actions speak louder than words. I encourage all who are concerned with DAPL to commit to acting in alliance with those at Standing Rock.