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Why your Facebook friends are checking in at Standing Rock

Messages on the social network appear to be part of an effort to confuse law enforcement officials.


Native American protestors and their supporters are confronted by security during a demonstration against work being done for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, in September.


It probably seems as though a bunch of your friends on Facebook suddenly picked up and headed out to North Dakota on Monday to join the protest against the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.

Thousands of Facebook users appeared to have checked in at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in Cannon Ball, N.D. But it's unlikely many were actually near the site of a tense standoff over construction of a $3.7 billion pipeline designed to move oil from North Dakota to a shipping point in Illinois -- construction that opponents argue will harm cultural artifacts and local drinking water supplies.

It's not clear who started the Facebook protest, but it appears related to a message circulating on the social network that suggests law enforcement officials are using social media to track protestors' activity. According to the meme, the flood of false check-ins at the protest site will help protestors who are actually at the site by confusing those allegedly trying to gather intelligence on them.

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. 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? Don't share, rather copy & paste

The Morton County Sheriff's Department on Monday issued a statement on Facebook denying the accusation and calling it "absolutely false."


A representative for Sacred Stone Camp, one of the major camps protesting the pipeline since April, told the Washington Post that the Facebook protest was not its idea but appreciated the attention it was directing toward the protest.

"We support the tactic, and think it is a great way to express solidarity," a spokesman for the Sacred Stone Camp wrote in an email. "It looks like the copy and paste technique has created a unique way of generating numbers of support -- it's more impactful to see thousands of our friends take the time to create a unique status update."