Pipeline protest required people to believe a lot of things that were not true

Craig Stevens:
We saw fake news play a critical role in the public's outcry in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline. From my perspective, it was astounding that individuals and even elected officials were so loose with the truth and so unaffected by the facts.

The Dakota Access Pipeline is a 1,170 mile project extending across the Midwest from North Dakota's Bakken region in to Illinois. For the past four months, its completion has been delayed and now halted, despite being fully permitted by four states and the federal government, validated by two federal courts, sited along the path of preexisting energy infrastructure, avoids the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, and yet, the public protest effectively stopped the project in its tracks. And much of the protest, and its coverage in the mainstream media, has been based on falsities.

For example, in September, an image of a young girl whose face was supposedly mauled by private security dogs made the rounds on social media by protest supporters. Outrage followed and the ranks of the protest swelled. It was later revealed that the picture was taken from a news story about an incident in Texas nearly four years prior.

A few days later, another Facebook image — ostensibly of thousands of Standing Rock protesters — was shared more than 400,000 times. However, a critical eye and a quick Google search debunked the image as a photo from Woodstock 1969.

It was this white noise that allowed mainstream media to miss the simplest facts about the project. Multiple outlets continued to report that the pipeline crossed the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, when it unequivocally does not. Elected officials championed the claim that there was "insufficient" consultation with Native tribes, when nearly 400 consultations took place over a two-year span, including at least 11 meetings between the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Little attention was paid to the fact that two federal courts said project officials exceeded the necessary requirements. And that the pipeline would be built more than 90 feet below the Missouri riverbed was virtually ignored.

Fake social media accounts and memes were created to appear as though local law enforcement and company officials held attitudes and made statements they did not; and dozens of organizations emailed their lists with outrageous claims of police brutality and unfair arrests.

Taken together, this groundswell of armchair activism, coupled with the perpetuation of fake news, helped support an ultimately political decision that halted a $3.8 billion dollar infrastructure project. It's concerning that as we move forward, elected officials and policymakers could so easily be swayed by rhetoric lined with demonstrably false statements. Hopefully 2017 will bring with it a healthy cynicism towards unsourced and uninformed opinion posing as "news" and will allow sound and legal public policy and private development to move forward.
The hysteria over a pipeline never made sense to me, regardless of all the phony stories used to push it.   As someone who lives in Texas, it is hard to go to town without crossing several pipelines that keep this country moving and keep the lights on.  Opposition to this pipeline was based on the politics of fraud and the perpetration of ignorance by the virulent anti-energy left who, ironically, had to use fossil fuel to get to the protests.


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