“Water is Life” — social media and anima mundi
“The stars we are given. The constellations we make.
That is to say, stars exist in the cosmos,
but constellations are the imaginary lines we draw between them, the readings we give the sky, the stories we tell.”
In late October of 2016, a post regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline protests went viral, circulating through Facebook, asking users to use the geo-tag “check in” feature to check in” at Standing Rock:
The Morton County Sheriff’s Department has been using Facebook check-ins to find out who is at Standing Rock in order to target them in attempts to disrupt the prayer camps. Water Protectors are calling on EVERYONE to check-in at Standing Rock, ND to overwhelm and confuse them. This is a concrete action that can protect people putting their bodies and well-being on the line that we can do without leaving our homes. Will you join me in Standing Rock.
The post was followed by various hashtags and asked users to “copy and paste” the message. It has since been revealed that the call to action did not originate from the camp itself, although they appreciate the gestures of solidarity.
On my “check in”, a friend of mine (male, cis, straight, white) commented:
These posts seem to embody the armchair savior ethos: bystanders oblivious to a complex territorial dispute are made heroic by checking in at a specific location (Nov. 2, 10:40 pm).
I found this argument to be divisive, unproductive, and an example of social media as a platform for self-aggrandizing. While the issues facing the protesters at Standing Rock are complex, none of us are bystanders when it comes to environmental issues.
Social media is an ecosystem that impacts and is impacted by other ecosystems. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter can indeed be a source of misinformation, panic, and paranoia— they can create silos and insular, fearful virtual communities. However, I see them as platforms for dialogue, self-determination and solidarity. We can use social media as a means for nourishment, activism, justice and protection.
The action of using the geo-tag Facebook feature to “check in” at Standing Rock gave solidarity and presence to the movement. Although the request did not originate from the camp itself, the intention of those Facebook users was to show their support and help in some way although they could not be physically present.
I believe we are moving closer and closer to a universal human consciousness through our access to information and our ability to share and co-create knowledge. Stories disseminate rapidly. I post a status, or share an article about Standing Rock, and suddenly 60 people in my network have “liked” it, and 2 have shared it. Social media is marked by consciousness, the mind, and interpersonal relationships. We are cells within a larger organism, and we are interdependent on our environment and all living things.
Of course, one could argue that the rise of social media networks is a way we attempt to “save ourselves from our own experience” through bypassing real life interactions and curating alternate realities. An argument could also be made for the “god-like” sense of power that social media seems to foster—a 24-hour platform and the ability to comment on current affairs from the safety of home. Social media also “immortalizes” us, in a sense, by creating online profiles and repositories for our experiences and images that will endure as long as the servers stay up. These arguments fail to recognize that social media has become an integral part of our biosphere—a way for us to stay connected to, and not alienated from, life on Earth.
If it weren’t for social media, the native people at Standing Rock could have easily been eradicated, but because they utilized these platforms the world turned its eyes to their plight and people showed up in
droves to demonstrate solidarity. The cries of Mni Wiconi (Lakota for “Water is life”) demonstrated the native regard for water as sacred and precious and conveyed the urgency of preservation efforts.
Nowadays, one needn’t be a journalist to contribute to the mediasphere. Anyone with access to a device and an Internet connection can contribute to global discourse around pertinent issues and stories. In many ways, this has slightly leveled the playing field for those who are often silenced and underrepresented.
The constant weaving together of stories within the modern mediasphere can be likened to an infinite number of spiders intertwining threads of narrative and resilience. Small ripples out in the ocean can turn into giant waves by the time they make it to land— a potential constructive or destructive force.
On Sunday, December 4, 2016, the United States Army Corps denied easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline. Impact: although temporary, this victory demonstrated the power of social media to collectively nourish and combat oppression, erasure, and alienation through our collective web of spheres. Through the ethical and compassionate use of social media, we can begin to move toward the realization of anima mundi—our world spirit and tribe. We must continue to pay attention and to use our respective digital platforms to empower, enfranchise, and connect.
-By Emily Duffy, Quixotic Beat