Social media activism generates awareness of DAPL protests

Adriana DiSilvestro, Contributing Writer

If you are privy to the daily ongoings of Facebook, you will have likely noticed that a few, or perhaps many, of your friends have “checked in” at Standing Rock, N.D. It is safe to say that your Facebook acquaintances are not actually at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, but are rather showing their support for the protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe is in the midst of staging a peaceful protest against the construction of a proposed pipeline which would destroy their ancestral burial grounds and threaten their water supply. The 1,172 mile long project is still seeking final approval and the protest is putting a halt to further advancement. Members of the Sioux tribe have been standing against the pipeline for months now, and other activists and members of the community are joining in to show support, which is where your Facebook friends come into play.

Rumors on social media stating the Standing Rock police force was using Facebook check-in locations to find and apprehend protesters began to spread rapidly a week ago. As a result, millions of Facebook users have checked in at Standing Rock to “confuse authorities” as to where actual protesters in the area are located. The problem with this tactic is that the rumors about police using Facebook are entirely false; at no point was the Standing Rock police force actually using check-ins to monitor protesters. So, was it all for nothing?

According to some officials and activists, not quite. Even though this movement was technically started for misinformed reasons, the massive scale of the check-ins at Standing Rock pushed the DAPL protest from a grassroots level initiative into the national spotlight. In the midst of an election, the fact that this issue is making national headlines is unprecedented. Historically, environmental problems and the rights of indigenous people are two areas that American media coverage doesn’t take well to.

The “social media press” that the DAPL protest is receiving is both increasing awareness of the issue and propelling it into major news sources, thus increasing the likelihood that the Sioux may achieve their goal of halting construction.

The relative success of this technically inaccurate social media posting is not a reason to share every petition, article, and editorial on Facebook. The attention the DAPL is attracting is productive, and is truly making a difference; however, this is not always the pattern when it comes to social media activism. There are typically two major problems: inaccuracy and lack of critical engagement.

Take, for example, the recent Facebook phenomenon regarding the death of the Great Barrier Reef. A month ago, the widespread circulation of this misinformed piece of well-intended media left vacationers panicked and coral reef biologists hyperventilating. Of course, the Great Barrier Reef isn’t actually dead, but coral bleaching and ocean acidification will likely kill it off within 20-30 years.

The circulation of this article with its alarmist headline had many scientists worried that if the public actually believed the reef was dead, mitigation efforts would stop, along with donations and attempts to save the reef. In this regard, although inaccuracy was not an issue with the DAPL posts, it is still necessary to critically evaluate just what you are advocating on social media platforms such as Facebook.

When your friends clicked the button “check-in” at Standing Rock, they probably got the sense that they were doing something good, which in this case is true. The problem with this type of social media activism as a whole, however, is that this sense of “doing-good” with just one click, or the urge to hop on the activism bandwagon, can discourage actual critical engagement.

In the case of the DAPL, the lack of accuracy did not hurt the cause, but in all cases of social media activism it is still crucial to critically evaluate what you are making a statement for and why. Sharing news simply for the sake of making a political statement is not nearly as impactful as researching, investigating, and discussing your opinions both on and off the web. Next time you feel compelled to take part in the new “Facebook activism” trend, be sure to fully investigate just what it is you are talking about, then click away.

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