Why are people checking in at Standing Rock Indian Reservation on Facebook?

If you stay offline for more than a few hours, you can quickly lose track of what’s happening with activism-related or other Facebook trends. Anyone casually logging onto social media this week may be wondering: Why are people checking into Standing Rock Indian Reservation? Thousands of Facebook users have checked in to the North Dakota reservation as an action of solidarity with people protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which is valued at $3.7 billion dollars.

The check-ins quickly surged after a post was made on Facebook saying the Morton County Sheriff’s Department was using social media as a way to track the location (and amount) of protesters, and more efficiently target protesters. The purpose of the mass check-ins across the globe was to flood Facebook so the sheriff’s department would have a more difficult time pinpointing the physically present protesters.

While the viral act of solidarity was likely encouraging to protesters, Snopes revealed that neither the Morton County Sheriff’s Department or the camp of protesters believed the mass-check in was actually confusing law enforcement enough to slow their face-off with protesters, but it has effectively worked as a way to force the media to cover DAPL after months of censorship and silence.

People checking in at Stand Rock in attempts to throw off the police posted one of a few copy and pasted statuses to explain that they weren’t actually there and why they were checking in. One such status read:

“The Morton County Sherriff’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 Protecters 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?”

The scheme would only be effective if people participating made their check-in post public and their clarification post private, otherwise the police either couldn’t see the check-in at all or could see both and would know it was fake.

Regardless, it signaled that people around the world do care about the issue, despite the fact that it’s received very little attention in recent months. Most people only started tuning into DAPL news once Shailene Woodley was arrested while protesting at Standing Rock. So, the social media strategy worked on some level.