A post that went viral on Facebook beginning Sunday evening urged users to check in at Standing Rock Reservation in Cannonball, N.D. The post said that users would be helping to thwart law-enforcement officers who were using social media to track protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The post instructed users to make a public post in which they checked in to Standing Rock. Users were then instructed to make a separate, private post explaining the check-in to their friends and urging them to do the same:
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. SO Water Protectors are calling on EVERYONE to check-in at Standing Rock, ND to overwhelm and confuse them. This is concrete action that can protect people putting their bodies and well-beings on the line that we can do without leaving our homes. Will you join me in Standing Rock?
If you’re sharing your location at Standing Stock:
1) Make it public.
2) Make the clarification post SEPARATE, and limit post visibility to your friends only.
3) Don’t clarify on your check-in post; privately message friends who say “stay safe!” to let them know what’s up.
4) Copy/paste to share clarification messages (like this one) because making it public blows our cover.
5) Use an alternate name in clarification posts so that when they filter out / search those terms, your post is visible to the right people.
Popular debunking site Snopes was quick to jump into the fray and, in an effort to prove whether the post was real or not, spoke with both the Morton County Sheriff’s Department and Sacred Stone Camp.
The Morton County Sheriff’s Department denied the claims that it was using social media to track protesters, and larger media outlets jumped on that, quickly reporting that no, police were not checking social media for posts. But let’s be real for a minute here.
As previously reported on The Root, the American Civil Liberties Union recently uncovered the fact that Facebook, Instagram and Twitter were all part of a data-mining system that provided information gained from social media posts to law-enforcement agencies across the country. It has been confirmed that the data was used to track and target activists in Ferguson, Mo., and in Baltimore.
Although the Morton County Sheriff’s Department is not one of the law-enforcement agencies that uses the data-mining system, it would still be naive to think that it isn’t using social media in its methods to water down the protests. In fact, a no-fly zone was created around the area of the #NoDAPL, which prevented protesters from using drones to report on police activities in the area, but the police were still able to use their own drones to track the activities of the protesters on the ground.
Furthermore, although the check-in movement spread like wildfire on Facebook, #NoDAPL and terms related to the protests did not show up as Facebook trending topics until late Monday afternoon Pacific time.
Sacred Stone Camp told Snopes that it appreciated the show of solidarity and would only confirm for Snopes that the message did not originate from its Facebook page. Sacred Stone Camp officials did not say that the message did not originate from people on the ground in North Dakota. Sacred Stone Camp officials also made it clear that they believe law enforcement is combing through social media posts related to the protests:
There is no doubt that law enforcement comb social media for incriminating material and monitor communications.
There is no solid line between “organizers” and “others”—this is a movement, not an organization. There are many camps and points of contact, we can only verify that it did not originate from the Sacred Stone Camp FB page. We support the tactic, and think it is a great way to express solidarity.
Maybe the check-ins thwarted law-enforcement efforts and maybe they didn’t, but one thing is clear: They definitely drew a large amount of attention to an issue that is negatively affecting indigenous people in our country, and Sacred Stone Camp, along with other native groups, no doubt appreciates the action.