Some thoughts on how the #NODAPL Facebook check-in movement created huge impact (and 600,000 missed opportunities).

I just got a G-Chat from a friend:“Wait, are you at Standing Rock right now!?”

I’m not in North Dakota. I’m at work, at Timshel, here in Chicago. But earlier today, I used Facebook to check in at Standing Rock Indian Reservation, after it was reported that police were using Facebook to track the movements of people protesting against the Dakota Access Pipeline. If thousands and thousands of Facebook users checked into the location page at once, the police would theoretically be overwhelmed by the task of sorting out who was actually at the location.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and its efforts against the Dakota Access Line have been woefully under-covered by our media, and is a reflection of this country’s long war against Native peoples. I felt inspired to take part by checking in. After all, upwards of 10 of my Facebook friends had already checked in, too.

The viral instructions on checking in (source: TheVerge.com)

The call-to-action was simple. Just copy a paragraph and post it publicly to your wall.

A more cynical version of myself would call this Slacktivism. I am more interested by how this effort reflects an older, more manual approach to online activism and engagement. Using Facebook as a crude peer-to-peer networking tool seems almost quaint in these days of GoFundMe and Kiva. There was no slick, responsive website, no ‘thank you for signing our petition’ email. Perhaps that was part of the draw — it felt grassroots and coercive in an age of well-designed, squeaky-clean petition pages.

By Monday afternoon, nearly 600,000 people had checked in to Standing Rock’s place pages (according to Facebook). It’s fantastic that so many people are now aware of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s protest efforts. It’s an opportunity to start a real conversation about the anti-Native violence and policies that our government has taken for many, many years, and a conversation about how to move forward. “This check in has created a huge influx of media attention that we appreciate,” a [the Camp of the Sacred Stones] spokesperson told The Verge. “Our growing massive social media following plays a key role in this struggle. We have been ignored for the most part by mainstream media, yet we have hundreds of thousands of supporters from across the world. We appreciate a diversity of tactics and encourage people to come up with creative ways to act in solidarity, both online and as real physical allies.”

Imagine growing your email database by 600,000 people in one day! But there’s one sad caveat to this success — those 600,000 people were checking in to a number of unofficial location pages on Facebook, not an official brand page or website sign-up form that would easily allow Standing Rock to reengage these amazing new supporters from all over the world.

This could pose a challenge when The Camp of the Sacred Stones (and other nonprofits working in North Dakota) want to ask these new supporters to take action again. I’m definitely not an expert on who owns which properties, but I believe the Facebook location pages, because they are unofficial, make it tough to reach back out to the people who faked a check-in. Other nonprofits may be able to target people who checked in through Facebook Ads Manager, but the targeting options can be opaque when it comes to location pages.

These organizations now know that thousands of people across the country and world support their cause, but because of the distributed approach to raising awareness on Facebook, they probably haven’t garnered 600,000 new email subscribers or fans.

That’s not to say that the effort was for naught.ew A quick search of Facebook and Twitter reveal a ton of great organizations working tirelessly, online and off, to reach new communities with the story of Standing Rock. Standing Rock Sioux Tribe also has a Donation Fund through PayPal, too (of course, PayPal takes 2.2% +$.20 per transaction). Today’s viral check-in effort did a fantastic job of making thousands of new supporters people aware of that mission.

The hope is that we’ll all take the time to dig deeper into the organizations on the ground in North Dakota and figure out how to take more meaningful action to support them. For nonprofits, it also reinforces the importance of supporter data capture. When 600,000 people arrive on your organization’s doorstep one day, how will you capture their information? And what will be your strategy for growing those relationships in a way that serves your mission?

Learn more about #NoDAPL and ways to engage:

MoveOn.Org Petition to Stop the DAPL

How to Talk about #NoDAPL: A Native Perspective

Indian Country Today: Primer on the No DAPL Movement