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As you may have noticed yesterday, quite a few people with whom you are Facebook friends (presumably at this point more so for entertainment purposes than out of any sort of affection) did two things:
1) Checked into the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota on the social media platform.
2) Felt super good about themselves.
And, according to a post on Facebook from the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, also this:
3) Jack shit.
If you were, until this point, mercifully unaware of why your socially conscious acquaintances were using every ounce of their influence (that would be roughly 0.6 ounces, on average) and checking into an Indian reservation on Facebook, it’s because some (though not all, or even most, in fact) members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, along with supporters, are protesting the construction of that portion of the Dakota Access Pipeline due to concerns about how it will affect the local water supply, and things are heated. Although it probably should’ve gotten heated two years ago when local hearings were held about the construction of the pipeline. But, naturally, like all good causes of internet activism, all the proper channels of dissent were ignored and everyone waited until the last second to complain and act like they got screwed over.
That’s according to Standing Rock Sioux tribe member and district chairman of the nearby town of Cannon Ball, Robert Fool Bear Sr. in this story from CNN.
Fool Bear has had it with the protesters. He says that more than two years ago, when members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe could have attended hearings to make their concerns known, they didn’t care.
Regardless, we’re here now, and a lot of arrests are being made because of the protests. A rumor began that the local police were monitoring Facebook check-ins to the protest area to target protesters, so people were encouraged to flood the area with Facebook check-ins. That would, theoretically, make it harder if not impossible for police to do their targeting. What does “target” mean, exactly? The post explaining the whole plan doesn’t say. Because, 1) it’s not actually happening, and 2) like it fucking matters anyway. Just leave it vague and let everyone fill in the blanks with their nightmare scenario of choice. Much more effective than using details.
“OMG I heard the police have drones with shotguns on them and they’re shooting beanbags at the throats of elderly Native American women who were doing a peaceful good fortune dance! And also they’re teargassing babies and did you know that to babies teargas is like acid?!”
Ridiculous, people. U.S. government officials haven’t done anything like that to Native Americans in, like, at least 9 or 10 decades. Chill.
But if you’re wondering why so many Keyboard Ghandis were all about this cause, it’s pretty simple: this protest has a lot of hot internet activism buzzwords. Words like “oil,” “disenfranchised,” “natives,” “reservation,” and ooh ooh ooh, don’t forget “police.” Like I said, this is pretty hot, you guys. I can’t even imagine the support this cause would get if they were also knocking down a Planned Parenthood in the process of putting up this pipeline. The white-cis-hetero-patriarchy would be crushed under the weight of a billion reductive political memes, no doubt.
It should of course be noted that the Morton County Sheriff’s Department could be lying. Maybe they are monitoring Facebook check-ins in order to, OMFG, target people. Though, the site Ars Technica does raise this extremely valid, sensible point.
While it is true that law enforcement can and does comb public social media posts during protests, it’s not clear what effect this would have when officers could simply go to the Standing Rock site and arrest people in person.
So yeah, your friends checking into Standing Rock on Facebook did absolutely nothing to help the world or anyone in it yesterday. But the important thing is that they cared. And roughly a thousand times more important than that? You saw that they cared. Because really, that’s what internet activism is most of the time. A superficial lie. It’s like Facetune for a person’s soul..