Nearly 1 Million People ‘Check in’ on Facebook to Help Dakota Access Protesters

When asked to help keep police from tracking the actual demonstrators in Cannon Ball, N.D., hundreds of thousands checked in. But it's not clear it did any good.

The Dakota Access protest looked a lot larger on Monday based on its social media presence
The Dakota Access pipeline protest looked a lot larger on social media on Monday. Credit: Reuters

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Foes of the Dakota Access pipeline tried to use the classic art of deception on Monday, hoping to mislead North Dakota authorities who may be using social media, particularly Facebook, to track the demonstrators.  

The tactical deception by supporters of the Standing Rock demonstrators began erupting on Facebook today when word began to circulate that the Morton County Sheriff’s Department was turning to social media to gain intelligence on who is gathering near the site of the proposed Dakota Access pipeline near Cannon Ball.

“The Morton County Sheriff’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,” reads the Facebook post urging supporters of the pipeline worldwide to add their names to the illusory ploy.

“SO Water Protecters are calling on EVERYONE to check-in at Standing Rock, ND to overwhelm and confuse them.”

As of 4 p.m. Eastern time Monday, 907,899 people had checked in to the Standing Rock Facebook page. Its “likes” had also skyrocketed to more than 334,000.

A representative of the Morton County Sheriff’s Department could not be reached for comment, but the department posted a statement on its Facebook page denying it is using the social media platform to track demonstrators.

“The Morton County Sheriff’s Department is not and does not follow Facebook check-ins for the protest camp or any location. This claim / rumor is absolutely false,” according to the statement.

As the number of people who said they are present in Cannon Ball continued to rise, there is little to indicate it has provided a strategic advantage to the protestors beyond signaling wide-ranging solidarity for the movement. It is not clear who started the posts, which have appeared on many Facebook pages supporting the pipeline opposition.

The social media crusade has gone viral in the wake of ongoing protests supporting the Standing Rock Sioux tribe that is pushing back against Energy Transfer Partners as it builds a $3.8 billion pipeline to carry Bakken crude oil from North Dakota to Iowa.  The pipeline’s route passes near the reservation’s border and crosses the Missouri River, the main source of drinking water for the Standing Rock reservation.

The months-long protest has grown increasingly contentious and protesters have charged that authorities are employing harsh means to subdue activists, including the use of pepper spray and police dogs. In recent days, a new wave of arrests have been made as protesters set up camp on private ranchland along the pipeline route near Cannon Ball.

The sweeping social media call for supporters to check in on Facebook has been heard by thousands of people. Many  changed their Facebook status to reflect their “presence” in North Dakota. Others liked the page or sent messages of support.

Adelyn Brown of Hamlet, N.C. says she’s in Cannon Ball. Natalie Rebori of Springfield, Mo., is there, too, according to her Facebook page. So is Beth Riley of Tulsa, Okla. and Mike Yagi of Los Angeles.

But after checking in to Standing Rock, these people are sending follow-up messages to their Facebook friends, using code to indicate they are not in North Dakota but are a part of the Army of deception. The follow-up message uses “Randing Sock” or other plays on the name Standing Rock to allegedly skirt any law enforcement surveillance.  

Tom Wolf is one of those who has changed his Facebook status to reflect that he’s in Cannon Ball while he’s really thousands of miles away in Burlington, Vt. tending to his house painting business.

“I can’t be there physically to support the people and to protest what is going on,” he said in an interview with InsideClimate News.  “So I am going to do what I can from Vermont.”

He said he staunchly supports the protesters.

“I think the ultimate message we’re trying to send is that all people need to be respected regardless of race, religion or social standing.”