Monday, Facebook was flooded with posts of individuals checking in at the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, including many University of Michigan students, to show their support of the people protesting a proposed pipeline that would go through the reservation.
Many of the people who were checking in at Standing Rock were not actually visiting North Dakota, and some of the posts stated that the large number of check-ins aimed to overwhelm and confuse police officers in the area. A portion of the posts additionally suggested the Morton County Sheriff’s Department was using Facebook check-ins in the area to target protesters.
However, in a Facebook post, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department stated that it was not using the check-ins to find protesters.
“The Morton County Sheriff’s Department is not and does not follow Facebook check-ins for the protest camp or any location,” the post read. “This claim / rumor is absolutely false.”
LSA senior Dylan Nelson wrote in an email interview that at first he did not wish to join the many people checking in because he believed it did not inspire any real change, but later changed his mind, citing the importance of raising awareness.
“I was initially very reluctant to check in because it seemed to be another example of privileged but well intentioned liberal undergraduates superficially engaging with a resistance movement to feel useful and accumulate social capital,” he wrote. “Then I read a post by a friend of mine validating my insecurities about appropriating the movement’s symbolic power but encouraging people to check in anyway without, for example, a clarifying message that I wasn’t actually there.”
In an email interview, LSA junior Madison Fyke wrote that, regardless of the statement made by the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, she would rather take the extra step than risk the potential safety of the protesters.
“In my opinion, we can’t ignore the fact that building the Dakota Access Pipeline through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation would compromise the Sioux Tribe’s burial and prayer sites,” she wrote. “And even if the Morton County Sheriff’s Department denies that they’re following Facebook check-ins at the protest camp, it’s important to take all precautions to protect the protesters when we can’t be there to protest ourselves.”
The protests in Standing Rock have been going on for months in response to the Dakota Access Pipeline, a 1,100 mile fracked-oil pipeline, which is under construction. According to the #NoDAPL website, the pipeline would increase fracking around the Bakken shale region and endanger a major drinking water source for the Standing Rock Sioux and 8 million additional people living downstream.
Proponents in favor of the pipeline argue the new construction would provide an economic boost for the country and make the U.S. more self-sufficient.
Nelson added that the series of posts inspired him to research the issue more and have a better understanding of the protesters actions.
“I also know that because of the check ins I spent more time than I might have otherwise getting my facts straight and that I now understand more clearly why this is something worth getting so upset about,” he wrote.