I woke up on Halloween morning and like any technology-addicted millennial, checked Facebook. One of my friends from middle school summer camp used Facebook’s “check-in” feature to check in at Standing Rock Reservation, the location of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. This surprised me; I had no idea they cared about the controversy, but I still thought it was great that they had traveled from Missouri to North Dakota to stand with the protestors.
Then I kept scrolling and saw similar posts from friends I had thought were in Northfield, Chicago, Minneapolis and other locations around the country. I realized that my circle of acquaintances had not made a mass exodus to North Dakota when I read a clarifying post stating that protest groups were calling for supporters to simply check-in to Standing Rock to confuse local authorities who were using Facebook check-ins to monitor the protests.
The clarification post read, “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.”
Unfortunately, it looks like this form of online activism may have been misguided, as no protest groups have actually claimed they requested such an act of protest. When the fact-checking website Snopes contacted the leaders of the Sacred Stone Camp, they said that there are so many different people involved in this movement that the request could have come from anybody.
“There are many camps and points of contact, we can only verify that it did not originate from the Sacred Stone Camp [Facebook] page. We support the tactic, and think it is a great way to express solidarity,” one of the leaders said.
Neither the leaders of the movement nor the Morton County Sheriff’s Office officials believed that the Facebook posts actually impeded law enforcement. However, it was made clear that Sacred Stone appreciated the solidarity demonstrated through these Facebook check-ins.
Expressed solidarity for any movement is almost always appreciated. I’m sure seeing virtual support for the cause feels great to protesters at Standing Rock, especially considering that they have faced mass arrests and police brutality. Virtual support is better than no support; nothing can change if people don’t care. The problem is, people seem to think this is all one has to do to be an activist. Recently, it seems as though all Facebook users love and wish to make a difference, but nobody seems very willing to put in any real effort to do so.
This is why I believe solidarity is so popular right now, especially solidarity that takes place over social media. For some people, they feel that virtual solidarity is the least they can do to contribute to a movement or a cause. And that’s fine, as solidarity is always much-appreciated. I’m not going to criticize its expression. However, I believe that most of those expressing virtual solidarity likely have something more to give to the movements that we profess to care about. Sympathy and solidarity only take a movement so far. There are many concrete ways to support those at Standing Rock, from contributing to the camp’s legal defense fund to calling the Army Corps of Engineers and demanding that they reverse the DAPL permit. But these courses of action require more of people, whether that be time or money.
We must confront the reality that social media activism alone has not proven to be an effective method of activism. To truly affect change at Standing Rock, we must log out of our Facebook accounts and find concrete ways to become involved. At the very least, I encourage people to do some of their own research before reposting a status about any given event. I don’t mean to say that I’m not just as guilty of this bare-minimum activism as anybody else. I too have shared videos, changed my Facebook profile picture and used hashtags without actually doing anything in the real world to contribute to tangible change. However, recent events, such as the check-ins at Standing Rock, have shown me that this has not and will likely never be enough. I personally resolve to do more true activism for the causes I care about. Will you join me?
Dylan Walker ’18 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Mountian Grove, Mo. They major in classics with concentrations in film studies and women’s and gender studies.