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Thousands Are Using Facebook Check-Ins To Show Solidarity With Oil Pipeline Protesters

A viral Facebook post is urging people to check in to Standing Rock Indian Reservation to show solidarity and supposedly confuse local police.

Posted on October 31, 2016, at 2:57 p.m. ET

Tens of thousands of people on Facebook are falsely checking in to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation to show solidarity with protesters against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

ROBYN BECK/AFP / Getty Images

More than 30,000 people on Monday morning checked into the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, one of the sites where protesters and law enforcement officials have clashed in recent weeks.

For the last two months, protesters have gathered in North Dakota to oppose the construction of the $3.4 billion Dakota Access Pipeline, a 1,172-mile-long oil route that transfers crude oil to Illinois. Native American tribes and environmental activists leading the protests believe that the pipeline threatens the water supply and disturbs sacred and historic sites.

On Thursday, the Morton County Sheriff's Office arrested 141 protesters, accusing some of them of inciting violence against police.

A widely shared Facebook status on Monday alleged that local police were using social media to target protesters and disrupt prayer camps. The post urged people everywhere to use Facebook check-ins to "overwhelm and confuse" the Morton County Sheriff's Department.

Facebook: StopDAPL

In a Facebook post Monday, the sheriff's department denied using Facebook check-ins to target protest camps.

"The Morton County Sheriff’s Department is not and does not follow Facebook check-ins for the protest camp or any location. This claim / rumor is absolutely false," the post said.

However, the Sacred Stone Camp — one of the main organizers of the protest — told BuzzFeed News that they believe local police combed social media "for incriminating material and [to] monitor communications."

The Sacred Stone Camp said that there were several instances in which police used social media to attempt to identify people from videos and issue arrest warrants days or weeks after alleged incidents.

"We cannot verify if they have targeted users of the FB check-in tool specifically," the Sacred Stone Camp said. "We support the check-in tactic, and think it is a great way to express solidarity."

Facebook and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe did not immediately return BuzzFeed News' request for comment.

Hundreds of people who checked in shared the viral Facebook status.

Many of the people who checked in from across the US and several from outside the country said they were expressing solidarity with the protesters.

Facebook: Standing-Rock-Indian-Reservation

A 26-year-old woman from England, who did not wish to be named, told BuzzFeed News that she answered the call to check in on Facebook because "lots of people have been feeling quietly angry for a while — and now we’ve been offered a simple task we can do on smartphones, that makes us feel useful."

The woman said that many young people in the UK who were following the pipeline controversy felt "strongly that the destruction of the habitat and the disregard for people’s homes and beliefs is wrong," but were "powerless to do much about it" until now.

"There’s also something inherently creepy about the police force or security services using social media to clamp down on protests," she said. "It’s not a surprise that people want to subvert that kind of monitoring."

Mandy Tassy, in Ohio, told BuzzFeed News that she checked in to express solidarity with the Native American people rather than to confuse police. "If I could be there I would be there," Tassy said. "It shows that you support them and that you're with them in spirit."

Dallas Goldtooth, a prominent protest organizer, told BuzzFeed News that protesters were facing "an incredible amount of violence and repression from the state, so anything people can do from afar to sew seeds of confusion with the local authorities is a good thing."

Facebook: Standing-Rock-Indian-Reservation

Goldtooth, a Keep It in the Ground campaigner, said that people used the Facebook check-in to "to try and confuse the local police who have been using information from Facebook check-ins to target individuals at the camp."

Goldtooth added that people were also checking to express "solidarity with a hugely important and brave stand that indigenous people are making to protect their land rights and sacred heritage from the greed and disregard of fossil fuel companies."

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.