If you’ve been on Facebook anytime in the last two weeks or so, it is very likely that a myriad of posts about the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) have appeared on your newsfeed. Perhaps you’ve even posted one yourself, hoping that the cops at the site wouldn’t be smart enough to understand that “Randing Stock” actually means Standing Rock. Perhaps you posted hoping that the sheer number of Facebook check-ins would overwhelm the police, who, apparently, are tracking the number of protesters at Standing Rock through check-ins.
A couple of weeks ago, The Catalyst published an opinion piece by John Feigelson titled: “Sharing Petitions Isn’t Enough.” The piece condemned (in my opinion, rightfully) the kinds of social justice warriors that do little more than, well, share petitions on their social media pages. In the case of Standing Rock, the check-ins perhaps seem overdone. Surely, the simple solution would be for the protesters not to check in at all, making it impossible for the police to track them using Facebook.
Perhaps the answer is not so clear after all. Unfortunately, it’s quite likely that nowhere near as many people knew about this attempt to build a pipeline in the middle of the sacred Sioux lands before the Facebook DAPL ‘uprising.’ While physical and vocal activism is, without a doubt, preferable to its online variety, sometimes sheer numbers exert the largest amount of power. In the time that has passed since the Facebook check-ins started gathering momentum, the media coverage of the protests at Standing Rock has dramatically increased; DNB, Norway’s biggest bank that is funding 10 percent of the project, said that it is reconsidering its participation in the financing of the pipeline; Senator Tim Kaine has voiced his support for rerouting the pipeline.
Perhaps the timing is purely coincidental, but it’s hard to say that the Facebook protests have not made a significant impact on the public’s—and thus the media’s—perception of the DAPL. In his article, Feigelson said: “However, sharing petitions and liking people’s posts doesn’t affect change.” After watching the Facebook protests unfold, I’d have to respectfully disagree. It’s absolutely true that it is more rewarding, both for yourself and for whatever campaign you may be supporting, to physically participate in a protest and attempt to enact change with your whole being, rather than with the endless tapping of fingers on a keyboard. However, sometimes sheer numbers are what is needed to make change happen, and those numbers are much more likely to be gained through online petitions rather than physical participation. Thus, Feigelson, I’d have to respectfully disagree: sometimes sharing petitions is powerful enough to make change.