There is power and encouragement that can be found in the membership of communities. They can bring support, contacts and a sense of belonging that is highly sought after. A connection to culture and community is key in Aboriginal Australians understanding identity and their social, emotional and physical well-being (Tauli-Corpuz, 2017). Aboriginal Australians have however, experienced a history of repression, forceful assimilation, displacement and the dismantling of culture that has not only been echoed by mainstream media, but reinforced and aggravated by it (Dussart, 2006). One key shortfall of mainstream media is their distinct lack of Aboriginal voice represented in the coverage of events and issues in which they are involved and connected with – non-Aboriginal voices continue to exclude from the community and dominate Aboriginal voices (Meadows & Avison, 2000). This has led to formations of identity that are heavily influenced by Western and former colonist’s stories, instead of relating to Aboriginal people and their truths (Fforde et al., 2013). Although the media continues to fail to engage with inclusive representations of their culture or communities, social media has presented an opportunity for Aboriginal Australians to reclaim their voice and dismantle oppressive power systems. In particular, communities on Facebook are paving the way for Aboriginal Australians to become more connected, both socially and culturally. Facebook has become commonly used amongst Aboriginal Australians and communities on the platform are widespread, which has changed the way culture and identity is understood, encourages them to have a voice that contributes to discussions and helps them discover ways to be advocates in order to improve social issues that face Aboriginal Australians in contemporary society.
Increased use of Facebook Amongst Aboriginal Australians
As a culture that is quick to adopt new technologies (Carlson et al., 2015), the use of Facebook has become widespread and commonplace, which has allowed for new ways to communicate and connect with communities. There have been barriers that have restricted Facebook use amongst Aboriginal Australians including financial constraints or limited access to technology such as ICT equipment, the National Broadband Network or mobile phone services, especially in discrete locations, where as little as 50% of people have 3G coverage (Antonia, 2013; Watson, 2015). However, Watson (2015) notes that despite limited ownership of personal computers or laptops, internet access and use has increased drastically in remote communities, mostly through hand-held devices and smartphones, where Facebook can be and is used frequently amongst Aboriginal Australians (Carlson et al., 2015). As it happens, Facebook usage amongst Aboriginal Australians is higher than the overall Australia population (Rice et al., 2016) and over 60% of the population in remote communities are active users of the platform (Carson et al., 2015). The use of social media is not alien to Aboriginal Australians and for many, it is a daily routine check social media, with Facebook being the most popular platform to use (Carson et al., 2015). One key use of Facebook for Aboriginal Australians is for communication and connection with offline communities, such as friends and family, which has been particularly useful for those who live far from each other, those experiencing separation from their family, or those that live in distant and remote communities (Carlson & Frazer, 2015; Rice et al., 2016; Petray, 2015). In this way, Facebook communities are replicating and reinforcing offline communities, strengthening bonds that have been formed in real life and providing opportunities for communication that can overcome barriers of distance and time that would typically exist for Aboriginal Australians without social media (Carlson et al., 2015). This reinvigorated sense of community is not only used for communication with family and friends but can have an important impact on a connection to culture and the development of an Aboriginal identity.
Connection to Culture and Understanding Identity on Facebook
Facebook has provided access to communities that encourage a sense of connection to culture which can have profound impacts on the way that Aboriginal Australians make sense of and form their identity. Although there are varying definitions of community, there are common characteristics or emotions that a sense of community evokes, such as feelings of “empathy, affection, support, interdependence, consensus, shared values, and proximity” (Kendall, 2011, p. 309). In Facebook communities relating to Aboriginal topics, there is evidence of the formation of deeper human connections and relationships through shared values, norms, meanings, history and identity (Kendall, 2011; Petray, 2015; Oliver & Nguyen, 2017), which is seen on pages such as “Blackfulla Revolution” (2014), “NITV” (2007) and “Whadjuk Yorgas” (n.d.), or private groups such as “Aboriginal”(2008), “Aboriginals of Australia” (2014) and “Indigenous Rise” (2015). After a history of colonisation and dispossession, Facebook communities have transformed the way that Aboriginal Australians can forge a connection to culture (Carlson et al., 2015). In particular, the increase in child removal practices have had historical and lasting intergenerational impacts on culture and identity – in 1996, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children represented 20% of children in out of home care and in 2016, this figure jumped to 35% (Tauli-Corpuz, 2017). On Facebook, Aboriginal Australians can reconnect with their culture by seeking information about it, corresponding with people that share similar backgrounds to them and participating in cultural practices, unburdened by space or time (Carlson et al., 2015). Carlson and Frazer (2015) highlight “Sorry Business” on Facebook as a way that Aboriginal Australians engage with cultural practices related to death, funeral and loss, which can include notifying people of funerals, offering condolences, grieving, healing and offering or seeking support. Unlike mainstream media where Aboriginal perspectives are underrepresented and non-Aboriginal perspectives privileged (Bacon, 2005; Fforde et al., 2013), Facebook communities allow for Aboriginal people to navigate and solidify an understanding of identity through choosing how they express their identity and whom they share it with, as well as interactions and insights from people with similar backgrounds to themselves (Lumby, 2010; Petray, 2015; Oliver & Nguyen, 2017). After the dismantling of Aboriginal culture in Australia, Facebook pages and groups provide a place for communities where Aboriginal people can begin to understand and connect with their culture and identity, while also finding a voice to contribute to discussions about themselves and other Aboriginal people.
Aboriginal Australians are Empowered to Contribute to Discussions on Facebook
Facebook communities have empowered Aboriginal Australians to express their voice in new ways, so that they may contribute to discussions about Aboriginal topics and seek solutions for complex issues that are faced outside of these online spaces. Unlike previous conceptions of one, all-encompassing and mainstream public sphere, Meadows and Avison (2000) argue that smaller communities of Aboriginal Australians in media can be seen as a series of overlapping public spheres where people with similar cultural backgrounds and interests engage with each other to debate issues about their livelihood, before bringing the decisions to the wider public sphere. In these online communities, Aboriginal Australians are not only exposed to cultural experiences, but are also provided the tools to interact and contribute to the discussions hosted in these spaces in a rather open manner (Oliver & Nguyen, 2017). In these communities, Aboriginal Australians are empowered to express their thoughts about political or social issues, discuss concerns and debate solutions, which enables them to have a voice after a history of it being silenced (Meadows & Avison, 2000; Carlson et al., 2015). This then allows the Facebook communities to agree on positions that can then be taken to the wider community with a sense of solidarity that may have not been achieved without such far-reaching discussions unimpeded by distance (Meadows & Avison, 2000). It can be empowering to find common ground and solutions for issues that face those with similar backgrounds or experiences, which is also apparent in the way that young Aboriginal Australians confide in Facebook communities for assistance in making important decisions or facing stressful situations (Carlson & Frazer, 2015). Rice et al. (2016) suggest that gives young Aboriginal Australians a sense of control in their communities, where they can navigate social change, participate in discussion and most significantly, have a voice that is unregulated by non-Aboriginal people. This is an important aspect of Facebook communities that takes membership a step further – it is not just being exposed to information, but contributing to the content of a community that can empower Aboriginal Australians to have a voice and further, to take this information to the wider community for many purposes, including activism and advocacy.
Aboriginal Activism and Advocacy on Facebook
Facebook has transformed the way that Aboriginal Australians may participate in community discourse and in turn, has encouraged more accessible, inclusive and simple forms of activism. The ease of participation on Facebook has lowered barriers to activism, as users can support causes and be advocates for political organisations or campaigns, through simple actions such as short captions, captivating images, funny or emotional videos and sharing content (Petray, 2015; Lilleker & Koc-Michalska, 2017). Petray (2011) found that activist leaders such as Aboriginal activist Gary Foley, will make use of Facebook greatly to share news about current events and political issues, so that their friends on the platform will be exposed to such information every time they scroll through their news feeds. Aboriginal Australians can also quickly and simply express support for political causes through their membership in communities, such as being part of groups, or liking pages on Facebook (Petray, 2011). Mainstream media has often failed to bring to light Aboriginal deaths in custody or have neglected to include Aboriginal perspectives on the issue, instead privileging non-Aboriginal and government perspectives (Bacon, 2005; Fforde et al., 2013). Activism through varied media channels, including Facebook, is a way to challenge the unfair portrayals of Aboriginal issues and fight the dominance that mainstream media and the Australian State has (Dussart, 2006). In relation to Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, it is relatively straightforward and simple for Aboriginal Australians to advocate for justice on Facebook, through membership to groups such as “Stop Aboriginal Deaths in Custody” or by liking pages such as “Stop Black Deaths in Custody Australia” or “First Nations Deaths in Custody Watch Committee Inc.”. This can be a very empowering way for Aboriginal Australians to participate in civic activities and engage with politically minded communities, without the level of dominance that is seen in mainstream media or barriers to participation such as geographic, social or economic factors (Rice et al., 2016). An example of this is when in 2019, a police officer involved in the death of Yorta Yorta woman Tanya Day was photographed at a Blockade IMARC protest (blockadeimarc19, 2019) and shared around to several Aboriginal-run Facebook pages, including “Antifacist Action Brisbane” (2019) and “Blackfulla Revolution” (2019). This photograph prompted passionate conversations in the comment sections, providing advocates with a platform to scrutinise deaths in custody, to question the neglect of the Australian Government to allow the Senior Constable to continue working and to discuss the issue with other Aboriginal Australians, as well as allies or advocates. The ease of use on Facebook has empowered Aboriginal Australians to communicate with like-minded people and band together to become advocates or activists.
Facebook has significantly changed how Aboriginal Australians may belong to communities and in turn, how they connect with culture, people and their identities. Membership in Facebook communities has the potential to facilitate cultural practices, meaningful discussions about Aboriginal topics and invigorate political participation, in a way that is starkly different from when Aboriginal Australians, especially in remote communities, experienced little access to the Internet or empowering media coverage. Facebook has provided simple access to spaces unregulated by non-Aboriginal voices, where it is easy for Aboriginal Australians to not only be exposed to Aboriginal discussions, but actively contribute to community activities. This innovative and often subversive style of communication provides a much-needed challenge to the dominant views of Aboriginal identity misrepresented through mainstream media by non-Aboriginal voices and instead, encourages Aboriginal people to take control of the discourse surrounding their culture. It is a promising example of how self-determination in the media can change power structures and contribute to the movement towards equality in a contemporary Australian society. Wider ownership of mobile devices and more reliable and equal access to internet connection will extend the reach of such communities, so that the benefits may be experienced by more Aboriginal Australians.
Aboriginal. [ca. 2008]. In Facebook [Group page]. Retrieved May 1, 2020, from https://www.facebook.com/groups/9360101732/
Aboriginals of Australia. [ca. 2014]. In Facebook [Group page]. Retrieved April 26, 2020, from https://www.facebook.com/groups/AboriginalsOfAustralia/
Antifacist Action Brisbane. (2019, October 30). This man is one of the police responsible for the death in custody of Aunty Tanya Day [Photograph]. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/AntifascistActionBrisbane/photos/a.1978920475500798/2648148425244663/?type=3&theater
Antonia, A. (2013). Democratising the digital divide: Civics and citizenship curriculum, Aboriginal communities and social media. Social Educator, 31(1), 35-42. Retrieved from https://search-informit-com-au.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/fullText;dn=206854;res=AEIPT
Bacon, W. (2005). A case study in ethical failure: Twenty years of media coverage of Aboriginal deaths in custody. Pacific Journalism Review, 11, 17-41. Retrieved from https://search-informit-com-au.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/fullText;dn=123144714258609;res=IELHSS
Blackfulla Revolution. [ca. 2014]. In Facebook [Page]. Retrieved May 2, 2020, from https://www.facebook.com/ourcountryourchoice/
Blackfulla Revolution. (2019, October 30). This man is one of the police responsible for the death in custody of Aunty Tanya Day [Shared photograph]. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=antifacist%20action%20brisbane&epa=SEARCH_BOX
blockadeimarc19. (2019, October 30). Senior Constable Wayne Cairns who was involved in Tanya Days murder is protecting climate criminals at IMARC. [Instagram story]. Retrieved from https://www.instagram.com/blockadeimarc19/
Carlson, B. L., Farrelly, T., Frazer, R., & Borthwick, F. (2015). Mediating tragedy: Facebook, Aboriginal peoples and suicide. Australasian Journal of Information Systems, 19(0),
Carlson, B. L., & Frazer, R. (2015). “It’s like going to a cemetery and lighting a candle”: Aboriginal Australians, sorry business and social media. AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples, 11(3), 221-224. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/117718011501100301
Dussart, F. (2006). Media matters: Visual representations of Aboriginal Australia. Visual Anthropology Review, 21, 5-10. Retrieved from https://anthrosource-onlinelibrary-wiley-com.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/doi/epdf/10.1525/var.2005.21.1-2.5
Fforde, F., Bamblett, L., Lovett, R., Gorringe, S., & Fogarty, B. (2013). Discourse, deficit and identity: Aboriginality, the race paradigm and the language of representation in contemporary Australia. Media International Australia, 149, 162-173. Retrieved from https://search-informit-com-au.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/fullText;dn=740290503637500;res=IELLCC
Indigenous Rise. [ca. 2015]. In Facebook [Group page]. Retrieved April 24, 2020, from https://www.facebook.com/groups/IndigenousRise/
Kendall, L. (2011). Community and the Internet. In M. Consalvo & C. Ess (Eds.), The Handbook of Internet Studies (1st ed., pp. 309-325). Wiley-Blackwell. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/9781444314861.ch14
Lilleker, D. G., & Koc-Michalska, K. (2016). What drives political participation? Motivations and mobilisation in a digital age. Political Communication, 34(1), 21-43. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10584609.2016.1225235
Lumby, B. (2010). Cyber-Indigeneity: Urban Indigenous Identity on Facebook. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 39(1), 68-75. http://dx.doi.org/10.1375/S1326011100001150
Meadows, M., & Avison, S. (2000). Speaking and hearing: Aboriginal newspapers and the public sphere in Canada and Australia. Canadian Journal of Communication, 25(3), 1-17. http://dx.doi.org/10.22230/cjc.2000v25n3a1163
NITV. [ca. 2007]. In Facebook [Page]. Retrieved April 28, 2020, from https://www.facebook.com/NITVAustralia/
Oliver, R., & Nguyen, Bich. (2017). Translanguaging on Facebook: Exploring Australian Aboriginal multilingual competence in technology-enhanced environments and its pedagogical implications. Project Muse, 73(4), 463-487. http://dx.doi.org/10.3138/cmlr.3890
Petray, T. (2011). Protest 2.0: Online interactions and Aboriginal Activists. Media, Culture & Society, 33(6), 923-940. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0163443711411009
Petray, T. (2015). Taking back voice: Indigenous social media activism. Australian Quarterly, 86(1), 24-27. https://search-informit-com-au.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/fullText;dn=20190516010446;res=AGISPT
Tauli-Corpuz, V. (2017). End of Mission Statement by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz on her visit to Australia. United Nations. https://un.org.au/2017/04/03/end-of-mission-press-conference-and-end-of-mission-statement-by-the-un-special-rapporteur-on-the-rights-of-indigenous-peoples-victoria-tauli-corpuz-on-her-visit-to-australia/
Rice, E. S., Haynes, E., Royce, P., & Thompson, S. C. (2016). Social media and digital technology use among Indigenous young people in Australia: a literature review. International Journal for Equity in Health, 15(81), 1-16. http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12939-016-0366-0
Watson, I. (2015). Balancing opportunity and affordability: Use of mobile phones in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Journal of Telecommunications and the Digital Economy, 3(3), 17-30. http://dx.doi.org/10.18080/ajtde.v3n3.20
Whadjuk Yorgas. (n.d.). In Facebook [Page]. Retrieved April 25, 2020, from https://www.facebook.com/Whadjuk-Yorgas-214826605717692/