Aboriginal use of social media

Social media is a major way of communication for First Nations communities. How do they use social media, and is it adequate to learn about death via text message?

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Selected statistics

Average percentage of all Australians who use Facebook on a daily basis.
Percentage of First Nations people in metropolitan areas who use Facebook daily.
Percentage of First Nations people in rural areas who use Facebook daily.
Percentage of First Nations people in remote areas who use Facebook daily.
Percentage of surveyed First Nations people who have seen racism towards Aboriginal people online.
Percentage of surveyed First Nations people who agreed social media was a good platform for learning about and engaging in cultural practices.
Percentage of surveyed First Nations people who expressed concern about sharing their culture on social media.
Percentage of surveyed social media users who have received threats of violence from other users.
Percentage of surveyed First Nations people who said social media helped them to identify someone at risk of self-harm or suicide.

First Nations people love social media

Illustration of two young First Nations boys using social media on their mobile devices.
First Nations Australians love using social media. It helps them be in charge, but also connect with loved ones, extend their identity and live culture in new ways. Illustration: Detail from a still from the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s award-winning Be Deadly Online campaign.

First Nations Australians are enthusiastic and avid users of social media.

Facebook, Twitter, TicToc and other social media help First Nations people connect with others and maintain contact and culture across both vast distances and time, increasing their social connection and sometimes helping find their identity.

First Nations people are using social media also for notifications of deaths and funerals, offering condolences and extending support, and grieving and healing, but competing cultural understandings, values and performances of respect and bereavement can be a challenge.

Uptake and access to mobile devices and the Internet has led to widespread use of social media among many First Nations youth, providing an opportunity for them to participate and communicate in new ways. In fact, mobile phones are so important that even those who lack food and clothing may still have their own smartphone.

In 2014, more than 60% of the remote First Nations population were on Facebook, 20% more than the average Australian community. Other networks such as Diva Chat – a Telstra-backed social network where people can remain anonymous – are also popular.

Benefits of social media for First Nations users

Social media benefits First Nations peoples in several important ways: identity, power and control, education, culture, and connections.


Social media is an opportunity for young First Nations people to extend their identity online. They are sharing stories or videos and are part of First Nations Facebook groups where they can connect with, affirm and give voice to their identities. They can also 'showcase' their First Nations identity to others. Mobile phones are viewed as "extensions of person".

Just as First Nations identity has always included a particular language, symbols, images, and membership in exclusive groups, social media extends this identity online.

Social media allows First Nations youth to be less ‘shamed’ than previous generations and more comfortable with their names or images publicly visible.

Specifically members of often marginalised groups, such as LBGTI+ persons, have a chance to reach other queer First Nations people struggling with identity.

Power and control

This seems to be one of the most important aspects of social media to First Nations people. Historically, indigenous peoples all over the world share the experience of invasion, powerlessness and external control. Present-day governments still do little to allow indigenous peoples to control their own affairs.

Social media gives First Nations people a sense of power and control over their own decision-making, identities, diversity and communities. It is them who decide what content they produce, who they share it with and when, and, importantly, without any control or regulation from others, especially the non-Aboriginal community and mainstream media which often distorts First Nations news. First Nations people can represent themselves rather than having others record and represent them.

This self-directed power and control has attracted First Nations activists who use social networks to inform the world about their struggle.


Smartphones use icons and gestures, which is very compatible with a culture that has an oral and visual history.

First Nations youth are more drawn to multimedia, video, social networking, animation and music because these minimise language and literacy barriers. People with low literacy can thus understand the technology intuitively because they can remember how to do things spatially rather than intellectually.

Students with inferior English and math skills often still have a very solid grasp of technology. In that respect social media offers alternative forms of learning and literacy such as digital storytelling.

This is important to consider when delivering marketing campaigns, and many health promotion programs already switch to online communities and social media websites, and away from phone calls or the expert/client power relationship, in order to reach First Nations people.


Social media is a good cultural fit for First Nations users because the medium matches the oral and visual culture of First Nations communities, rather than Western-based literacy and numeracy.

Creators find that social media content around culture is the most popular, and it might be a new way of sharing and learning about one's culture. "It seems as though a lot of my most popular content surrounds my culture," says Sari-Ella Thaiday, a creator belonging to the Darnley, Saibai and Yidinji people. "[Examples include] a makeup look inspired by my culture, ... a really nice headpiece where every piece was symbolic of something from the Torres Strait and I spoke about it. Another one of my most popular was a video of my grandma making a traditional island dish."

Some First Nations leaders recognise that the interactions in social networks are similar to ancient imagery and ancient communication channels and serve community and communication just the same. It's a new way of passing on knowledge across generations.

For example, a film that features Elders discussing stories and traditions can be shown to First Nations youth and potentially to future generations; this is a modern, social media-based form of oral tradition.

Social media can be the new place for traditions that were once reserved solely for face-to-face interactions, like Sorry Business, creating new forms of cultural practice around death. Mobile devices allow First Nations people to ‘participate’ in Sorry Business even though they may not physically be there.

Illustration of a man taking a selfie in a group of First Nations youth.
Social media is a lot about connection. It is often the primary source of information, but also opens up new groups and better support. Illustration: Australian Communications and Media Authority’s Be Deadly Online campaign.


One of the biggest benefits of social media is that it helps connect distant family and friends. When the next community might be as far as 150 kilometres away, users living in isolated areas are increasingly accessing social media via tablet and smartphone devices because services like Facebook offer instant and affordable communication.

For many, Facebook and Twitter are the primary sources of communication where they can find out what is happening in their communities and networks. For some is is even a "new meeting place" that provides a fresh way to practice and pass on cultural knowledge.

Facebook in particular serves as a platform for First Nations youth who have moved away from friends or family to reconnect, and has been labelled "a modern site for kinship connectivity and continuity”.

Social media has the potential to provide a strong sense of community and support for young people. It offers both, communities that First Nations people may not otherwise connect with, and a strengthening of existing groups. When creators are harassed or trolled on social media, community support can be vital for their mental health and ability to cope.

@IndigenousX is an award-nominated Twitter account which shares First Nations knowledge and stories, challenges stereotypes and reflects the diversity of First Nations peoples.

This sense of support, connection, and community may help improve young First Nations people's mental health and well-being, and real-life communities can work together and strengthen their bonds.

Traditionally, First Nations people have always formed same-sex circles, be it for ceremony or exchange of knowledge. Mobile phones and social media allow them to continue this tradition. For example, when young Warlpiri people (NT) of the same age share a mobile phone, they tend to be of the same gender. This shows how they have incorporated mobile phones into their lives in ways that fit their community’s cultural practices.

Online interaction also helps those First Nations people who struggle socially or have less social skills to tap into social networks that can support them.

Social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter… allowed us to connect and organise over vast distances. They also gave us platforms to discuss matters which had long been denied within the mainstream press.

— Celeste Liddle, social commentator

A double-ended sword: Suicide and social media

The good news with social media is that it helps overcome feelings of isolation which might lead to suicide. People who are connected feel slightly less isolated and if they need help their call can spread fast and wide. They also benefit from better education and health.

Research found social media might be a less daunting way for users to find support and reach out when in need. It offers an alternative outlet for users’ feelings and thoughts, circumventing some of the social barriers to requesting help. Importantly, First Nations people are using social media to seek and offer help for issues relating to suicide and self-harm.

But given that First Nations suicide rates are a national crisis, social media can impose an unrelenting exposure to news about traumatic events, such as deaths in custody and suicide, which can have a huge impact on First Nations social media users.

Social media challenges for First Nations users

Social media has downsides for all users, such as cyber bullying and trolling, cyber racism, sexting and the generational gap in knowledge and use.

Some challenges however are unique to First Nations users.

  • Memorialised Facebook accounts. Facebook has a practice of ‘memorialising’ accounts of deceased people. When accounts are ‘memorialised’, photos of the deceased person remain on Facebook and visible to the audience they were shared with. Without a 'legacy contact' the account cannot be changed and remains locked. This can be very distressing for First Nations family members because of the cultural sensitivity regarding the depiction of images of deceased people. First Nations people refer to these pages occasionally as "Sorry Pages".
  • Too much suicide. First Nations people use social media to communicate around death, dying and funeral practices. They are relentlessly informed of incidents of death and also, of violence that often results in death. This constant flow of graphic videos and images, combined with lived experiences of racism, can lead to severe psychological problems similar to Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.
  • Loss of traditional interaction. Using technology for communication has disturbed traditional forms of interaction as it excludes gesture, sign, and gaze. Social media reduces previously accepted forms of conflict resolution and social control by Elders. Since there is no oversight anymore, cyber abuse can go on unaddressed and even result in suicide if no-one is aware of what is going on.
  • Loss of traditional authority. Senior women in First Nations communities are concerned about Facebook undermining traditional authority relations. Feuds can spread rapidly before elders can intervene.
  • Spread of conflicts. Closely related to the former point, conflicts that previously remained local can spread as young people call, text or inform kin in other places about conflicts, especially via anonymous services such as Diva Chat. Users can also publish posts that are meant to spark violence between feuding families.
  • Pressure about identity. Just like fair-skinned First Nations people are challenged by both non-Aboriginal and First Nations people because the don't 'look Aboriginal', social media passes on this pressure to 'prove' one's Aboriginality. Even 'being' Aboriginal is often not enough, the community expects First Nations users to also 'do' Aboriginality, i.e. by adding mainly First Nations users and displaying "knowledge of particular types of language, membership of organisations, participation in certain causes, the sending and receipt of recognisable First Nations iconography, imagery, the posting of political statements and the knowledge of particular community organisations, structures and practices". First Nations Facebook users will check on others if they do.

[I didn't use my real photo in my profile because] you don’t know what people might think ’cause I don’t look Koori so they might think I am a faker.

— Aboriginal Facebook user
  • Racial abuse, trolling and cyberbullying. Memes on Facebook racially vilify First Nations people. Discrimination, bullying and vilification via social media can harm First Nations social media users. Cyberbullying, anti-Aboriginal racism and mental ill-health are all linked but rarely studied. Just like real life abuse, First Nations people regularly experience online racism. More than a third of First Nations people have been the victim of direct racism online. Twenty one percent had received direct threats by other social media users, and for 17% these had impacted their offline lives with physical violence or mental ill-health. No wonder that social media users are selective about what they post for fear others would hit back with racism or violence, or shut down their accounts entirely.
  • Lateral violence and bullying. Social media can connect, but also divide First Nations peoples. Lateral violence and attacks between First Nations people are "increasing" and add to the many challenges First Nations people are already facing.

I love it when people tell me to just ignore racists. Like, have you ever flicked through my Twitter feed? [...] How do you ignore what you cannot escape?

— Celeste Liddle, Arrernte woman and freelance writer

In April 2014, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) launched Be Deadly Online, an award-winning awareness campaign around cyber-safety for First Nations communities.

The campaign aimed to tackle complex issue likes sexting, cyber-bullying and managing your digital footprint for a young First Nations audience with positive, practical advice on playing smart online. It used a series of short animations, posters and a behind-the scenes ‘making of’ video and offers a collection of classroom resources.


Social media mob: being Indigenous online, published by Macquarie University, Sydney, has more information about First Nations people and social media.

Video: Be Deadly Online - Dumb Stuff

Watch a video by the Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner educating about how posting videos online can come back and haunt you.

First Nations people you can follow on social media

Here is a suggestion of who you can follow to help you tap into the latest in First Nations Australian news, politics, research and culture.

Amy McQuire

Amy McQuire is a journalist with 98.9FM in Brisbane, the first First Nations radio station in a capital city. Amy has a history of being vocal about the injustices faced by Aboriginal people, including talking about hard issues like First Nations deaths in custody and police brutality.

Anita Heiss

If you are a book-lover and avid reader, Dr Anita Heiss is one Aboriginal author to follow. Her books include non-fiction about the First Nations experience, including Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia and Am I Black Enough For You? The self-confessed "chick-lit" author is a lifetime ambassador of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

Bronwyn Fredericks

Professor Bronwyn Fredericks is one of Australia’s few First Nations Pro Vice-Chancellors. First Nations academics are often referred to as “Blakademics”, and many of them are enthusiastic social media users. Bronwyn promotes issues of health and well-being, race/racism, regional development and more. She is also a supporter of First Nations students.

Celeste Liddle

Celeste Liddle is the national organiser of the National Tertiary Education Union, freelance opinion writer and social commentator. She blogs at Rantings of An Aboriginal Feminist. Celeste is a strong voice on social media and an advocate for First Nations-controlled media, as well as the value of having more First Nations commentary in the mainstream media.

Dameyon Bonson

Dameyon Bonson is the 2016 Dr. Yunupingu Award For Human Rights recipient and founder of Black Rainbow, Australia’s peak suicide prevention group for First Nations lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. He’s also the managing director of Indigenist, a website about First Nations genius, Indigeneity and wellbeing.

Euginia Flynn

Euginia Flynn is a blogger who writes from her viewpoint as a First Nations, Chinese, Muslim woman living on Kulin country in Melbourne. Euginia is a thoughtful, poised and strong First Nations woman.

Jack Latimore

Jack Latimore is a researcher and journalist with The Guardian Australia, writing on First Nations affairs, politics, culture, tech, media and journalism. He is involved in the development of several projects aimed at improving the quality of First Nations representation and participation in the mainstream media.

Joe Williams

Joe Williams aims to inspire youth and individuals through motivational speaking workshops, run through his charity The Enemy Within. He is impassioned by the high rates of suicides in First Nations communities – speaking and writing powerfully about his own experience of surviving a suicide attempt – as well as the continued discrimination First Nations people face in mainstream media.

Leesa Watego

Leesa Watego started Deadly Bloggers in 2009, a directory of First Nations writers posting on everything from business to pop culture. She is the director of Iscariot Media, a niche media enterprise focusing on creative, online and educational projects. Leesa is an outstanding educator and deep thinker.

Luke Pearson

Luke Pearson is the founder of the First Nations media organisation IndigenousX. Luke is also currently a senior digital producer for NITV. The #IndigenousX hashtag started in 2012 as a rotating Twitter account, hosted by a different First Nations person every week, and has since expanded into other social media.

Lynore Geia

Dr Lynore Geia is an advocate for First Nations health. She is the founder of Indigenous Health May Day – or #IHMayDay – Tweetfests, which have been successful in gaining national support over three consecutive years and getting First Nations health trending on Twitter.

Sandy O’Sullivan

Dr Sandy O’Sullivan is an academic blogger. She is an example of the way First Nations people are making global connections. She has been to the United States promoting the Bachelor Institute’s Centre for Collaborative First Nations Research.

Summer May Finlay

Summer May Finlay is a public health professional, PhD candidate and an avid social media user. She is passionate about Australian politics, First Nations issues, health, music, art, films and blogs on a variety of other topics.

First Nations organisations you can follow on social media

Reconciliation Australia compiled a list of First Nations media accounts which you might consider following as well:

Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) is a repository for First Nations cultures, traditions, artefacts and languages. It is a treasure trove for researchers, offering a meticulously curated exhibition and a wealth of resources on cultural heritage.

Australian Indigenous Fashion

Check out the Instagram and Facebook accounts of Australian Indigenous Fashion for a much needed dose of colour and style. From swimsuits to showcasing fashion from the Darwin Art Fair, the Australian Indigenous Fashion celebrates the flourishing First Nations fashion industry.

The Healing Foundation

The Healing Foundation is a national organisation that works alongside First Nations communities to help heal the trauma of forced removals of children. Their YouTube channel offers interviews with members of the Stolen Generations, animations on the impacts of intergenerational trauma and many more resources on the history of forced removals and its ongoing consequences.

Koori Mail

For almost 30 years, the Koori Mail newspaper has provided a space for First Nations current affairs in print media. Follow their Facebook and Twitter accounts to keep up with their stories and the perspectives (and poetry) of their long-time readers, helping you to be a part of their community.

Magabala Books

This First Nations publisher's social media accounts will make you want to read – a lot! While their physical shop is in Broome, WA, its website is the go-to place for browsing First Nations writers' books. Magabala is Australia’s oldest independent First Nations publishing house, and a passion for helping authors tell their stories. Follow them to learn more about the books they publish and the talented authors and illustrators behind the tales.

National Indigenous Television

National Indigenous Television (NITV) is Australia’s primary television station made by and for First Nations peoples. Their social media accounts go behind the scenes of many of their programs. NITV uses Instagram in fun and creative ways to educate their followers on important events from history.

United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues deals exclusively with indigenous issues and encourages cooperation between indigenous peoples around the world. Its Twitter account represents indigenous diversity across the globe, and by following them you can learn about the richly diverse traditions, cultures and languages that make up our world’s First Nations people and the global issues that unite them.


View article sources (14)

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[13] Celeste Liddle's Twitter feed, 5/4/2019,, retrieved 28/5/2019
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Cite this page

Korff, J 2023, Aboriginal use of social media, <>, retrieved 20 July 2024

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