Media

Aboriginal use of social media

Social media has long reached Aboriginal communities as a major way of communication. How does Aboriginal youth use social media, and is it adequate to learn about death via text message?

Selected statistics

42%
Average percentage of all Australians who use Facebook on a daily basis. [5]
68%
Percentage of Aboriginal people in metropolitan areas who use Facebook daily. [5]
61%
Percentage of Aboriginal people in rural areas who use Facebook daily. [5]
44%
Percentage of Aboriginal people in remote areas who use Facebook daily. [5]

Aboriginal people love social media

Illustration of two young Aboriginal boys using social media on their mobile devices. Aboriginal 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.

Aboriginal Australians are enthusiastic and avid users of social media.

Facebook and other social media help Aboriginal people connect with others and maintain contact and culture across both vast distances and time, increasing their social connection.

Aboriginal 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. [8]

Uptake and access to mobile devices and the Internet has led to widespread use of social media among many Aboriginal 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. [6]

In 2014, more than 60% of the remote Aboriginal population were on Facebook, 20% more than the average Australian community. [2] Other networks such as Diva Chat – a Telstra-backed social network where people can remain anonymous – are also popular. [3, 6]

Benefits of social media for Aboriginal people

Social media benefits Aboriginal Australians in several important ways: identity, power and control, education, culture, and connections.

Identity

Social media is an opportunity for young Aboriginal people to extend their identity online. They are sharing stories or videos and are part of Aboriginal Facebook groups where they can connect with, affirm and give voice to their Aboriginal identities. [6] They can also ‘showcase’ their Aboriginal identity to others. Mobile phones are viewed as “extensions of person”. [6]

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

Social media allows Aboriginal youth to be less ‘shamed’ than previous generations and more comfortable with their names or images publicly visible. [6]

Power and control

This seems to be one of the most important aspects of social media to Aboriginal 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 Aboriginal 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 Aboriginal news. Aboriginal people can represent themselves rather than having others record and represent them.

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

Education

Smartphones have a graphical user interface that uses icons and gestures which is very compatible with a culture that has an oral and visual history.

Young Aboriginal people 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 [6] rather than intellectually.

Students with inferior English and math skills often still have a very solid grasp of technology. [6] 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 Aboriginal people. [6]

Culture

Social media is a good cultural fit for Aboriginal users because the multimedial medium matches the oral and visual culture of Aboriginal communities, rather than Western-based literacy and numeriacy. [6]

Some Aboriginal 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. [6] It’s a new way of passing on knowledge across generations.

For example, a film that features Elders discussing Aboriginal stories and traditions can be shown to younger Aboriginal people and potentially to future generations; this is a modern, social media-based form of oral tradition. [6]

Social media can be the new place for traditions that were once reserved solely for face-to-face interactions, [4] like Sorry Business, creating new forms of cultural practice around death. Mobile devices allow Aboriginal people to ‘participate’ in Sorry Business even though they may not physically be there. [4]

Illustration of a man taking a selfie in a group of Aboriginal 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.

Connections

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 [4] where they can find out what is happening in their communities and networks.

Facebook in particular serves as a platform for young Aboriginal people who have moved away from friends or family to reconnect, and has been labelled “a modern site for kinship connectivity and continuity”. [6]

Social media has the potential to provide a strong sense of community and support for young people. [3] It offers both, communities that Aboriginal people may not otherwise connect with, and a strengthening of existing groups.

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

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

Traditionally, Aboriginal 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. [6]

Online interaction also helps those Aboriginal 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 [1]

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. [3] Importantly, Aboriginal people are using social media to seek and offer help for issues relating to suicide and self-harm. [4]

But given that Aboriginal 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 Aboriginal social media users.

Social media challenges for Aboriginal users

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

Some challenges however are unique to Aboriginal 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 Aboriginal family members because of the cultural sensitivity regarding the depiction of images of deceased people. Aboriginal people refer to these pages occasionally as “Sorry Pages”. [4]
  • Too much suicide. Aboriginal 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. [4]
  • 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. [6]
  • Loss of traditional authority. Senior women in Aboriginal communities are concerned about Facebook undermining traditional authority relations. Feuds can spread rapidly before elders can intervene. [5]
  • 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 Aboriginal people are challenged by both non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal people because the don’t ‘look Aboriginal’, social media passes on this pressure to ‘prove’ one’s Aboriginality. [6] Even ‘being’ Aboriginal is often not enough, the community expects Aboriginal users to also ‘do’ Aboriginality, i.e. by adding mainly Aboriginal users and displaying “knowledge of particular types of language, membership of organisations, participation in certain causes, the sending and receipt of recognisable Indigenous iconography, imagery, the posting of political statements and the knowledge of particular community organisations, structures and practices”. [7] Aboriginal 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 [7]

  • Racial abuse. Memes on Facebook racially vilify Aboriginal people. Discrimination, bullying and vilification via social media can harm Aboriginal social media users, and just like real life abuse they regularly experience online racism. [6]

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

The campaign aimed to tackle complex issue likes sexting, cyber-bullying and managing your digital footprint for a young Aboriginal 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.

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.

Aboriginal people you can follow on social media

Here is a suggestion of who you can follow to help you tap into the latest in Aboriginal Australian news, politics, research and culture. [1]

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 Aboriginal lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. He’s also the managing director of Indigenist, a website about Aboriginal genius, Indigeneity and wellbeing.

https://twitter.com/DameyonBonson
https://twitter.com/BlkRnBow
https://www.linkedin.com/in/dameyonbonson
https://www.facebook.com/BlackRainbowAustralia/

Leesa Watego

Leesa Watego started Deadly Bloggers in 2009, a directory of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander 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.

https://twitter.com/leesawatego
https://twitter.com/DeadlyBloggers
https://www.facebook.com/NotQuiteCooked/
https://www.facebook.com/deadlybloggers/
https://www.linkedin.com/in/leesawatego

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 Aboriginal communities – speaking and writing powerfully about his own experience of surviving a suicide attempt – as well as the continued discrimination Aboriginal people face in mainstream media.

https://twitter.com/joewilliams_tew
https://www.linkedin.com/in/joe-williams-51bb9b11a
https://www.facebook.com/TheEnemyWithinJoeWilliams/
http://www.joewilliams.com.au/

Amy McQuire

Amy McQuire is a journalist with 98.9FM in Brisbane, the first Aboriginal 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 Aboriginal deaths in custody and police brutality.

https://twitter.com/amymcquire
https://www.linkedin.com/in/amy-mcquire-b504932a
https://medium.com/@amymcquire/latest
https://amy-mcquire.com/

Jack Latimore

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

https://twitter.com/LatimoreJack
https://medium.com/@latimore
https://www.facebook.com/LatimoreJack/
https://www.theguardian.com/profile/jack-latimore

Euginia Flynn

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

https://twitter.com/flyingenie1
https://www.facebook.com/blackthoughtslivehere/
https://eugeniaflynn.wordpress.com/

Bronwyn Fredericks

Professor Bronwyn Fredericks is one of Australia’s few Aboriginal Pro Vice-Chancellors. Aboriginal 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 Aboriginal students.

https://twitter.com/BronFredericks
https://www.linkedin.com/in/bronwyn-fredericks-304173b4

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, Aboriginal issues, health, music, art, films and blogs on a variety of other topics.

https://twitter.com/OnTopicAus
https://www.linkedin.com/in/summer-may-finlay-4946698a
http://summermayfinlay.blogspot.com.au/

Lynore Geia

Dr Lynore Geia is an advocate for Aboriginal 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 Aboriginal health trending on Twitter.

https://twitter.com/LynoreGeia
https://twitter.com/hashtag/ihmayday
https://www.linkedin.com/in/lynore-geia-ab51a6bb

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 Aboriginal-controlled media, as well as the value of having more Aboriginal commentary in the mainstream media.

https://twitter.com/Utopiana
https://au.linkedin.com/in/celeste-liddle-8a012529
https://www.facebook.com/blackfeministranter/

Sandy O’Sullivan

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

https://twitter.com/sandyosullivan
https://au.linkedin.com/in/sandy-o-sullivan-1a79724
https://www.facebook.com/sandyosullivan66
http://sandyosullivan.blogspot.com/

Luke Pearson

Luke Pearson is the founder of the highly influential Aboriginal 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 Aboriginal Australian every week, and has since expanded into other social media.

https://twitter.com/lukelpearson
https://twitter.com/IndigenousX
https://au.linkedin.com/in/lupearson
https://www.facebook.com/Indigenousx/

Footnotes

View article sources (8)

[1] '12 deadly Indigenous Australian social media users to follow', The Conversation 17/10/2016
[2] 'Remote Indigenous Australians rely on Facebook to stay in touch', NITV News, 27/8/2014
[3] 'Well-connected Indigenous kids keen to tap new ways to save lives', The Conversation 16/9/2014
[4] 'For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, what are the health impacts of social media?', Croakey 30/9/2016
[5] 'Indigenous Australians Predisposed To Facebook', B&T Magazine, http://www.bandt.com.au/marketing/indigenous-australians-predisposed-facebook, 28/8/2014, retrieved 7/11/2016
[6] 'Social media and digital technology use among Indigenous young people in Australia: a literature review', International Journal for Equity in Health, Vol.15, 2016, p.81
[7] 'Cyber-Indigeneity: Urban Indigenous identity on FaceBook', Bronwyn L. Lumby, 2010, The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, vol.39, no. Supplement, pp. 68-75.
[8] 'Mediating tragedy: facebook, aboriginal peoples and suicide', Carlson, B., Farrelly, T., Frazer, R. and Borthwick, F., University of Wollongong, Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts, 2015

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Aboriginal culture - Media - Aboriginal use of social media, retrieved 25 September 2017