Standing Rock Facebook check-ins are pointless for keeping protesters safe, say both police and activists

Over a million people have now checked in at the site, suggesting that the campaign is working for raising awareness if not for hiding people from police

Andrew Griffin
Tuesday 01 November 2016 15:33
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Native American activists rally to call on President Barack Obama to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, in front of the White House in Washington, U.S. September 13, 2016
Native American activists rally to call on President Barack Obama to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, in front of the White House in Washington, U.S. September 13, 2016

A viral Facebook post has been shared by more than a million people – but there’s one very important catch.

The “Standing Rock check-in post claims that police monitoring protests over the North Dakota Access Pipeline will be obstructed if people check in to the area on Facebook. The local sheriffs have been using Facebook “to find out who is at Standing Rock in order to target them in attempts to disrupt the prayer camps”, the message reads, and so falsely checking in can stop them from doing so.

But both local sheriffs and the Sacred Stone Camp that is the centre of the protests have said that the message doesn’t actually interrupt any ongoing surveillance or monitoring operations, and isn’t likely to make any immediate difference to the protests.

Police said that they are not using Facebook check-ins for the protest camp at Standing Rock or for any other location. What’s more, it isn’t exactly clear how they could.

“The Morton County Sheriff’s Department is not and does not follow Facebook check-ins for the protest camp or any location,” an officer told Snopes. “This claim/rumour is absolutely false.”

It isn’t entirely clear from the post how checking in at the location is expected to make any difference. Police have explained that it wouldn’t be helpful to use Facebook check-ins as a way of monitoring people, since they’re voluntary and could easily be hidden; if instead the police were using geolocation based on a device’s location, then simply posting a Facebook check-in wouldn’t make any difference.

The Sacred Stone Camp said that they weren’t the source of the plea and that they don’t think that it would serve any immediate use to the people on the ground. Police probably do look through social media posts, a representative said, but checking in is unlikely to cause any meaningful disruption to that.

“There is no doubt that law enforcement comb social media for incriminating material and monitor communications,” a spokesperson told Snopes. “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.

And that expression of solidarity does seem to have been the main way that the hoax has benefited the people protesting at Standing Rock. The update has been shared by as many as two million people – meaning that the hoax has drawn attention to the ongoing clashes in the area.

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