In recent weeks, a large group of protesters has halted and called attention to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The protest was started by Native Americans concerned about keeping the water clean and drinkable at the Standing Rock Reservation, which straddles North and South Dakota. It’s gotten to be such an issue that the Obama administration is seeking to review the approval of the project.
This topic hits pretty close to my day job, but you didn’t come here for an education or to hear about my politics and how they apply to this one issue. You’re here for the yuck-yucks, so we’re going to stick with that.
Checking in to Standing Rock is as dumb as posting one of those “this is my content” messages.
One of the biggest criticisms of my generation is that we love to have opinions, but will only do the minimum to do anything about it. It’s more important for us to be seen reacting on social media than actually doing something. We put filters on our profile pictures to express support for this or that cause. We post “thoughts and prayers” when tragedy strikes, then go back to looking at memes. This doesn’t help fight that stereotype. So, why are we dumb for checking into Standing Rock on Facebook?
There’s no evidence it’s real
This morning I noticed a handful of friends check in to the reservation. I was pretty surprised and impressed that they felt so strongly that the actually went to join the protest. Then I learned it was just a smokescreen. Someone posted that the Morton County, N.D. Sheriff’s Department was using Facebook check-ins to monitor protesters, so everyone should check in there and make it impossible for law enforcement to track them.
Folks, police are always monitoring social media, but they don’t do it to do a protester headcount. Even if everyone is checking in, it’s next to impossible to get any sort of idea how many people are there. You can check in multiple times, you can check in to more than one location in the area, you can check in and then leave.
The sheriff’s department hasn’t responded to the claims, and there’s no way to confirm them. The call to action doesn’t even have an author because someone cropped him or her out. It’s just as likely that a protester did it as it is some prankster, or even someone in law enforcement did it.
You’re probably making things worse
Imagine you’re planning an event on the fly. You need to get in touch with certain people at certain times to coordinate things. You’re using walkie talkies to reach these people, and it’s important you keep the channel clear so those who need to get through can. Then someone grabs a walkie talkie and says “I think the cops are monitoring us. Let’s flood the channel!” Then everyone with a walkie talkie starts chiming in all at once. Now you can’t reach the people you need.
It’s highly likely that protesters are using social media to coordinate, if it’s like any other large-scale protests we’ve seen in recent years. They probably have to use it sparingly, because it’s North Dakota–a flat, deserted, mosquito-infested and rapidly cooling expanse of land, and the service sucks. They don’t know when they’ll be able to charge their smartphones again because they’re in tent cities, so they have to post sparingly. And now there’s a cacophony of supporters from all over flooding social media, thinking they’re helping out.
It’s literally the least you can do
So you support these protesters? Great! That means you’re paying attention to current events and have made up your mind on an issue. Now that have you decided you feel strongly enough to do something, you check in. Then you pat yourself on the back.
Let’s say I’m wrong–that this is legit, and it is actually helping protesters in Standing Rock. You took five seconds to click something. Most people can’t just take off work and fly out there, or sell their cars so oil companies won’t need to build pipelines, but there are other things to do.
You didn’t donate money to their cause. You didn’t send supplies to help these people because, I reiterate, North Dakota sucks. You didn’t organize or attend a protest in your area. You didn’t reach out to your congressional representatives. You did just enough to say you did something, but nowhere near enough to have an actual impact.
And on top of all that, the check-in was a lie.
Get off of Facebook and actually take action, if you feel that strongly. Maybe you’ll do something important enough that you’ll go viral. Then you can get credit for caring after all.