In the last 48 hours, I’ve seen several people turn to one social network, Twitter, to vent their frustrations about another one: Facebook.
In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which data from over 50 million Facebook profiles were secretly mined for voter insights, it sparked what some have called a #DeleteFacebook movement.
But not in Indian Country.
Deleting Facebook would be like pulling the plug at the party, rendering total darkness and, what’s more, deafening silence (where there’s already plenty of that).
And it’s not just Indian Country that would feel the extreme disconnect in a Facebook-less scenario. The entire Indigenous world would reel from its absence. To be sure, the social network has done more for bolstering the modern Indigenous rights agenda than perhaps any other platform of our time.
My ancestors, during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, performed what my colleague Mark Trahant describes as one of the earliest demonstrations of social media: a foot race of sorts. Delivering coded messages literally delivered in strands of yucca rope tied in knots, runners crossed the desert alerting other tribal communities of the coming of brutal Spanish colonizers. Each knot effectively communicated to a coalition of Pueblo defenders. They organized and carried out a successful army defeat.
Today, tribal communities rally around the same cause: to protect Indigenous life and land.
Facebook is the yucca rope.
For instance, the Navajo Nation has recently turned to the social network to monitor those who have gone missing from the reservation. Despite other databases designed to track the disappeared, such as the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, it’s Facebook that tribal officials believe is a more effective way of broadcasting information about those who have vanished, often under urgent circumstances.
In fact, community by tribal community, Facebook delivers in times of today’s most galvanizing needs. From extreme rates of violence against Indigenous women to environmental battles like Bear’s Ears, Indian Country has used Facebook to help close gaps of injustice one post at a time.
Nowhere was this more true than at Standing Rock.
On April 1, 2016, Joye Braun, a tribal citizen of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe, pitched the first teepee on the borderlands of the Standing Rock reservation. Five days later, Facebook live was unveiled to the world. The rest is history.
Standing Rock is what ultimately led me to end more than a decade of resisting Facebook — a true holdout based largely from concerns of an anticipated security breach like the one we’re confronting now. But I no longer care. Because Facebook, for better or worse, is where Indian Country thrives, delivering rough draft to the authentic Indigenous narrative in a way that so few other platforms do.
“When we don’t have political might, then it is really dark for every community and nation coz [sic] no power to tell the truth,” said Arjun Chakma, in a Facebook Messenger conversation with me last night.
His day was just getting started as mine was winding down. A young Indigenous mango farmer living in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh — easily one of the most militarized regions of all of Southeast Asia — Chakma had called me using Facebook, of course, his only means of digital communication. Our messaging was carried over from all that we still had left to say after we both hung up.
It was the first time we had communicated since we last saw each other on the banks of his jungle village in Hajachara, 2014.
#DeleteFacebook? Not. Even. Close.