Stop Checking In at Standing Rock

The darker side to the latest version of e-activism.

The original article contained several factual inaccuracies. These inaccuracies have been removed as of Wednesday 2nd November. We apologise for any misinformation spread. 


If you’ve been on Facebook recently, you’ve probably become aware of the “Checking In At Standing Rock” craze. The fad, for the uninitiated, centres around a dispute over Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which is currently in the grip of a protest against plans to build an oil pipeline through it. Police, it is alleged, are monitoring Facebook for people travelling to Standing Rock in order to arrest and intimidate them. The idea is that checking in at Standing Rock can foil this plan by confusing the detection methods of the police. So far, so social justice-inducing.

Now, I realise that the gullibility of people on the internet isn’t in itself news. In fact, it’s pretty much a given. But this goes deeper than that. See, by this point a fair number of the people checking in at Standing Rock probably know that their apparent stand for social justice was a result of them being tricked, rather than a meaningful action to defend human rights. But the same traits that made it so easy for them to be tricked are precisely the reason why they won’t care.

These people are probably not terribly interested in defending indigenous communities in North Dakota, or fighting for environmental justice. They’re interested in being seen to do so. Because activism is chic, activism is cool, but only if everyone knows you’re doing it, and only if you can do it quickly, easily, without having to put in either risk or research. That’s why they were so easily convinced that checking in to a reservation they’ve probably never heard of (and probably won’t give a second thought to later) would actually make a difference. Because doing good doesn’t matter, looking good does. And if looking good means swallowing internet-based charlatanry, then why not do that?

Now, look, if you’re sharing these things, I don’t doubt your good intentions. You probably genuinely do care, at least on some levels, about these issues. But if you think what you’re doing is genuinely going to make a difference, then you’re deluding yourself. I mean after all, we still haven’t caught Joseph Kony, have we? All those ice-bucket challenges haven’t brought about a cure for ALS, have they? And you probably haven’t thought at all about either of those issues now that you can’t get Facebook likes out of them, have you? I am an optimist about global change – I genuinely think activism can make the world a better place. But not if we’re unwilling to get our hands dirty, and certainly not if we’re not willing to do research.

There’s also a darker side to this brand of e-activism. Blindly echoing what others do on social media without properly understanding it can be dangerous. Destructive political movements across the political spectrum are driven by the regurgitation of online untruths, and, closer to home, I’ve seen a fellow student journalist become the target of a witch hunt after certain students misinterpreted a (positive) article she’d written about them as an attack.

So come on, guys. We’re students of St Andrews, the supposed leaders of the future. We’re better than all this ill-informed online virtue-signalling. Don’t check in at Standing Rock. Do something meaningful instead.

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