Editor's Note: After the publishing of this article, it came to the attention of the Editorial Board that part of the information cited was false. The section "In late October, the Morton County Sheriff Department stated that they would use Facebook check-ins to target those who had gathered at Standing Rock to protest," was found to be incorrect, a product of misinformation. The story has since been amended.
After much contention, the U.S. Army has denied the permit for the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The pipeline, which was set to run 1,170 miles from North Dakota to Southern Illinois, would have crossed under both the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. The Standing Rock Indian Reservation expressed concerns of the pipeline threatening their water supply and disrupting ancient burial grounds, but the issue received little mainstream media coverage.
That is, until September 3, 2016, when a video was posted of security dogs attacking those protesting the recent construction work done on an area deemed sacred ground. This video went viral, attracting millions of viewers.
A week later, actress Shailene Woodley was arrested, along with 27 other people, for protesting and attempting to block the construction from happening. She live-streamed the entire thing, attempting to be entirely transparent in her form of protesting and subsequent arrest. The publicity and increased support for the Dakota Access Pipeline crisis started multiplying.
With the increased media coverage came an escalated military presence, drawing soldiers in riot gear to the site to clear out protesters, using tear gas and rubber bullets. Ultimately, the protests were effective, for the project has been called off for rerouting and reconsideration.
Protests and social justice movements are not a new phenomenon. While this movement in particular was significant--it illuminated the atrocities indigenous people face and the ways in which our nation has failed to recognize them--it could easily be filed away with other similar movements. People were frustrated, they protested, they scuffled with the other side, and ultimately, they were victorious.
However, the Dakota Access Pipeline protests marked a cultural shift in the way people protest: it was characterized by social media activism as well as citizen journalism. In late October, multiple protestors both on-site and all over the country began utilizing the Facebook check-in feature to show solidarity with the residents of Standing Rock. When news spread, millions of people “checked-in” online at Standing Rock in solidarity with and protection of those fighting for their cause.
While news stories offered a possible explanation for the online check-ins, proposing that the check-ins served to prevent the local Morton County Sheriff Department enforcement from tracking protestors through social media, this story was proven false.
The online activism did not stop at the utilization of the Facebook check-in tool to show solidarity. Additionally, many people took to Twitter with the hashtag “#noDAPL,” standing for no Dakota Access Pipeline, and continued to share the viral videos that exposed what was happening on-site.
Critics discuss the effect of social media and its lessening of human connectivity and how it can often disengage us from the real world. There is also a notion that what it means to be an activist has been altered by the ability to advocate from a computer screen, fostering to low commitment activism.
Contrary to this belief, the social media activism for the Standing Rock Reservation connected people around the nation, allowing them to stand together and fight for what they believed. Social media was a pivotal tool in the success of this movement. Upon reflection of the coverage of the Standing Rock controversy, it is evident that online activism is an effective way to publicize advocacy that mainstream media doesn't always cover. People have been fighting the good fight for generations; the difference is that this year, the good fight has been taken online. It’s gone viral.