Paper Project Proposal — Social Media at the Dakota Access Pipeline Protest 2016

In 2016, thousands gathered near the Standing Rock Reservation, protesting the construction of a pipeline that would carry oil between North Dakota and Illinois.

The “black snake” (used in direct correlation between Plains Indian religious beliefs and the crude black oil traveling through the pipeline) would cross into the Sioux Nation (the overall name given to the many reservations in the area that share similar linguistic roots). The protest was just as much about environmental concerns as it was about Native sovereignty.

This is a map showing where the pipeline cut through native lands

Social media was an incredibly important part to the protest, as it allowed for protestors to share their support and spread the word. By looking at the social media tag #NoDAPL,” I would be drawing conclusions about the usefulness of social media in the protest as a digital presence of the protest. Additionally, I will be considered what people are posting under the tag, what they are trying to get across through that post, and how others interact with the post.

Using social media as a basis for research comes with its problems. It’s definitely not a traditional history archive, but it can provide us with tons of information since social media is so much part of our lives in the twenty-first century currently. We use it to tell others what we are doing in our lives. We use it to leave a digital signature that we existed. We use it to talk with others, stretching our voices across the air in ways we could not do in the centuries past. Of course, we must consider the biases of these posts, taking into consideration who is posting it, the motives these individuals had for being a part of the digital presence of the protest.

I’ll be using these following social media websites to look at the use of the hashtag:

  1. Facebook (+16,000 posts)
  2. Instagram (+550,000 posts)
  3. Twitter (unknown exactly — explains more here)

Just looking at these numbers, it would be an absolute adventure going through every single post, but considering the amount of time I have to work on this– I will only be looking at the ones at the very top of the pages. Most social media sites use an algorithm that pushes the popular posts to the top of the page. This will help me to see what most people are seeing and talking about. By also looking at the most popular, it will give me a better idea as to what the face of the digital presence of the protest looks like.

Lastly, it may be interesting to also consider the legacy of the protest in the digital world. It has been several years since the protest, with only recently there being a pause to the construction. The “black snake” however continues to slither through the Sioux Nation.

One Reply to “Paper Project Proposal — Social Media at the Dakota Access Pipeline Protest 2016”

  1. Hi Jane,

    This is a really rich topic and something that I think has a lot of potential. It’s clearly the case that social media played a big part in the NoDAPL story, and drawing out the way that worked is very relevant to the course.

    Looking at digital records of the event is a great approach. To your point, this is a huge collection of documentation, so I think it makes sense to focus on some of the top posts in the corpus as you proposed. I also think your considerations of the legacy of the protests on social media is also important.

    If you were to run with this as your course project, I think it would be good to think about how to fold in more of the layers of issues that come from working with this kind of set of primary sources. For that, I would encourage you to check out some of the work that the Documenting the Now initiative has been developing they have hosted a number of meetings/convenings and are a good place to get into a lot of the issue that come up from working with social media archives.

    Along with that, I think my other primary suggestion would be to think about how the social media storytelling practices around #NoDAPL function as much broader traditions and practices of memory and storytelling work within the Sioux Nation and more broadly as part of indigenous memory work. That is, the event itself is part of a set of traditions and practices of resistance that are an important part of history.

    One last thing to consider in this is how you would approach/engage with the communities involved in NoDAPL. Ideally, a project like this would involve some outreach to individuals whose content you wanted to discuss/explore. That would have the dual benefit of getting you a richer picture of the experience of people involved in the protests and also of ensuring that you are informing people who might well be vulnerable to having their content misused or misrepresented in ways that can help make sure they are supportive of the kind of ways you want to use the material they produced.

    All together this is a really rich topic and something that I think could be of broad interest to work in public memory.

    Best, Trevor

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