Indigenous People, Virtual Communities and Online Social Networks

The Voice Unheard

By Bruno Santoro

Curtin University



Thesis Statement

Although social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are used by Indigenous people to express culture, establish kinship, and as a means of self-representation, these platforms are not always effective tools for exerting political influence, action and communicating the Indigenous ‘voice’.


This paper discusses the use of Web 2.0 platforms and networks by Indigenous communities in Australia for Indigenous cultural expression, identity, the recording of oral traditions, and more specifically, political and social media activism. However, although social media helps establish identity and supports cultural expression, Indigenous communities still fail to be heard, in terms of exerting any significant political influence. Ultimately, the Indigenous political “voice” can be rendered ineffective in effecting significant and positive political reform, despite the affordances and communicative advantages provided by these digital platforms and online networks. This technology should make political action easier, providing a means for Indigenous political power to have a meaningful impact and influence policy making. However mediatized political influences and their inherent power structures work to disperse this indigenous political power, (also ironically), by using the same technology. This paper will also discuss the reasons for this.

 Indigenous Communities on Social Media

Social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are powerful tools for Indigenous people to express culture, establish and explore a sense of identity, strengthen kinship ties and find connectiveness with Country; all vital aspects of Indigenous culture. Such use of social network sites is acknowledged by Lumby (2007) who notes that, in addition to “rekindling a sense of community” for users, “Facebook provides possibilities for extending community, for establishing connectiveness, cultural belonging, and networking aspects of pre-contact culture” (p.69).

Importantly, Lumby (2007) makes the distinction that with Facebook and Indigenous users, the platform is used as a “tool of self-representation” (p.73), which allows users to construct and build identity. Ironically, Lumby ends her paper by saying that Facebook offers both the tools for creating the “ideal Indigenous self, but it can also act as a tool for the destruction of Indigeneity”, (p.73), because of the constraining effects of how authenticity is established in this online network, that regulates what it means to be indigenous and who can and can’t claim indigeneity.

Conversely, in a contrasting perspective, as discussed by Townsend, P (2015), Facebook serves as an effective tool for learning, communication and community-building by teachers and students of remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tertiary students. While themed around the use of mobile devices, Townsend’s paper outlines the importance of this digital platform and what it represents for Indigenous people who use this network to establish a “co-operative approach to study” (p.11) and provided three primary functions for this community: “academic support, administered procedures and personal encouragement” (p.11). These qualities and positive outcomes provided by the affordances of these online platforms and the subsequent online network which emerges, again do not always transcend into an effective voice of influence in the political or media sphere however, as I will discuss in the next section.

Political and Social Activism Online

It is interesting to mention a reference of feminist writer Betty McLellan, as cited by Petray (2011, p.935), stating “Virtual activism actually benefits those in power, as activists have been systematically excluded from mainstream media and other areas controlled by power elites, and this means dissidents will offer no challenge in the real world”. In an increasingly mediatized political environment, this statement bears some truth and is another central piece of research I will use to support my arguments.

In a paper by Dreher, et al, (2016) which acknowledges the innovative and pioneering use of digital technology by Indigenous people, the writers focus on Indigenous participatory networks and their responses to particular government legislative measures and the differing nature of two specific campaigns; one government-sponsored and the other, driven by online Indigenous networks, which had very different outcomes, in the context of both campaigns being organised heavily relying on social media platforms.

As explained by Dreher, et. al (2016) and outlined by various authors cited in this paper who all seem to agree, that “the proliferation of Indigenous media productions offers unprecedented opportunities for Indigenous peoples to express their opinions and debate issues”, however, as argued by Dreher, et. al, research has shown, that this democratic participation “does not always guarantee that diverse voices will actually be heard” by political and media circles of key influence (p.25).

The Voice Unheard

The first example I will discuss is the #sosblakaustralia campaign, which was a grassroots response to political policy measures. This campaign was a display of a solid community-based social media activism, which achieved global reach and recognition. This campaign began as a protest in Western Australia against the forced closure of a significant number of remote Indigenous communities, and further reflected Indigenous community concerns that the government was moving toward implementing legislation which would “force Indigenous people into the mainstream economy” (Dreher, et. al, 2016, p.33). The drivers of this grassroots, bottom-up campaign also consisted of dissenters against the misaligned “Recognise” campaign, contrarily, a government-sponsored campaign.

Structural racism cannot be overcome by community building on social media platforms. #sosblakaustralia began as a Facebook post and rapidly went viral, despite the slow internet connection of the remote Aboriginal community it originated from, the Wangkatjungka.  Protests started appearing across the world, the campaign now mobilised both on and offline. Nonetheless, this campaign and its effects were largely ignored by media and political institutions, or completely downplayed. Any political or media commentary on the campaign only worked to provide a distraction from its key premise, and painted the campaign in a negative light, such as shown with comments made by the Melbourne Lord Mayor that the protests held in Melbourne were disruptive and problematic.

More so, Melbourne’s largest media outlet reported the protest as a selfish act by rabble, which disrupted traffic (p. 33). Evidence would suggest, and forms the explanation for my argument, that while #sosblakaustralia exemplifies the use of social media as a tool for organisation and mobilization, the mediatization of political communication in Australia, is the main constraint which renders the Indigenous voice as unheard.

From the “Top-down” perspective, the motives and outcomes of the government-empowered “Recognise” campaign were far different. The Recognise campaign was marketed on Facebook and other social media platforms to gain awareness and support for an intended referendum for Indigenous people to formally gain recognition in the Constitution. The campaign prompted subsequent adversary pages and campaigns by dissenting voices in the Indigenous (and non-Indigenous) communities.

Celeste Liddle, a prominent opinion writer criticized the campaign as no more than a top-down attempt to sideline and distract from stagnating discussions on land rights and other hotly-debated policy measures (Dreher, et. al, 2016, p.31). Liddle also argued that the dissenting voices against the Recognise campaign were either not heard or were not listened to. Dreher et. al concludes their paper by stating another concern with mainstream media amplifying already loud voices, as opposed to an institution that allows a diverse range of voices to be heard on democratic issues such as constitutional reform.

Even in this context, the Indigenous voice was not only unheard, but drowned out by the inherent power structures that exists in Australian media and political landscapes and is a different but equally damaging result of mediatized policy making. Why is this the case? What makes it so? I attempt to explain this in the next section

 Political and Media “Listening”

Valuable to my research was another paper by Dreher et. al (2015), which discusses the concept of political “Listening” and Indigenous participatory media. The question is posed here, of how to make Indigenous voices be heard in institutional democracy. “Indigenous people have more media access than ever, but there is a danger of creating echo chambers if decision-makers do not hear them (p.58). In an increasingly mediatized political environment, policy makers align closely to a narrow range of mainstream media and listen to only a very few voices of Indigenous prominence.

There is, however, one relevant example of when a diverse range of Indigenous voices, debating, discussing and sometimes protesting, Indigenous issues, views and perspectives on a dynamic range of topics, in an online context, is heard by those in positions of influence and power. This is shown with the pioneering Indigenous media platform, @IndigenousX.   @IndigenousX” mission, as stated on their website, is simply “to create a media landscape where Indigenous people can share their knowledge, opinions and experiences with a wide audience across the world.” (N. Nyaagu, 2014).

A term used by Dudgeoun, et al. (2013) in their case study of @IndigenousX in the context of community-led innovation in digital media, is the concept of “participatory journalism”. The nature of the communications and perspectives expressed on @IndigenousX reflect this, being a form of political and social based Indigenous affairs reporting. The emergence of @IndigenousX seeks to influence change in the journalistic and political landscape, by trying to fill the absence of “journalistic education” on Indigenous affairs. @IndigenousX does this by giving voice to a diverse range of Indigenous perspectives, essentially, an alternative form of journalism, which finds a global audience and has an impact in some form politically or socially. Dudgeoun et al. cites a lack of empirical data to research further on what impacts the emergence of platforms such as @IndigenousX has had on public and political debates, if key policy makers and influencers pay attention, or if the Indigenous voice falls once again on deaf ears as a result.

However, in a study by The Media and Indigenous Policy project, evidence was found that when mainstream media did listen to the Indigenous voice, through such communicative and authoritative means that platforms such as @IndigenousX provide, this did have a tangible impact on policy discussions and outcomes. This insight also suggested and highlighted how key policy and decision-makers were reliant on mainstream media to act as a prompt to direct attention to the Indigenous sphere (Dreher, et al. 2015. P.63). Dreher et. al conclude their paper by asking, with the affordances and opportunities provided by Indigenous online networks and Web 2.0 platforms as communicative tools, how much do these participatory media forms challenge and reconfigure “listening” on the part of the powerful (p.63)?


It is evident Indigenous online networks and communities innovate and utilise Web 2.0 technologies, social media platforms and other digital communicative means, as tools which act for the continuation and evolution of Indigenous culture into the 21st century. For Indigenous people, the digital space is one where art, oral traditions, history, Country and Political and social activism form part of a self-representation of Indigenous identity and voice which works both on and offline.  However, in spite of these digital affordances, in an era of mediatized political landscapes, embedded power structures within media and political institutions dictate when it is appropriate to “listen”; a process which seems undeterred by any grassroots campaigns, such as #sosblakaustralia, which gain much attention but somehow fail to deliver an outcome which shows a real social or political change.

More research is needed to find evidence of what influence, if any, @IndigenousX” and other similar platforms such as Facebook have had in allowing the Indigenous voice to be heard, and if these processes have had any real effect on real social and political change. Has the Indigenous voice truly been “heard”?  Who is really “listening”? In the context of Indigenous online networks, social media and political activism, this would be an area for further discussion and an opportunity for further research, outside the scope of this paper.


Use of online social networks and participation in virtual communities by Indigenous people supports cultural and artistic expression, connectedness with kinship, country and history and helps provide a means of establishing identity, a form of self-representation. However, these online platforms and tools to communicate do not always correlate to the Indigenous voice being heard in forums of political influence. Inherent power structures in political and media institutions and the influence of media over policy-making empower Indigenous voice when it is deemed in the interests of those entities.

Otherwise, those in positions of power fail to listen to that voice regardless of the digitally-amplified means by which Indigenous views and perspectives can be expressed and reach large and sometimes global audiences. Finally, any academic paper which includes the terms “participatory media” would not be complete without a reference from the authoritative works of Henry Jenkins (2006). 

Jenkins (p.181) highlights that “the evolution of most media has been shaped through interactions between the distributed power of grassroots participatory media and concentrated power of corporate/governmental media.” In this context, as participatory media continues to change, mutate and evolve the journalistic landscape (@IndigenousX) in the digital era, altering inherent power structures of mainstream media and political institutions, there may be a light on the horizon as far as the Indigenous voice being listened to, by key influencers of political and social reform. A voice which has been communicated effectively through Indigenous online networks and digital platforms, and most importantly, a voice that is heard. 

Reference List

Dreher, T. McCallum, K., & Waller, L. (2015). The listening key: Unlocking the democratic potential of Indigenous participatory media. Media International Australia, 2(154). 57-66.;dn=996352055258674;res=IELLCC

Dreher, T., Mccallum, K., Waller, L. (2016). Indigenous voices and mediatized policy-  making in the digital age. Information, Communication & Society. 19(1). 23-39.

Dudgeon, P. Pearson, L. Sweet, M. (2013). @IndigenousX: A case study of community-led innovation in digital media. Media International Australia, Incorporating Culture & Policy. (149). 104-111.,contains,indigenousx%20&offset=0

Jenkins, H. (2006). Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. New York University Press.

 Lumby, B. (2007). Cyber-Indigeneity: Urban Indigenous Identity on Facebook. Australian Journal of Indigenous Education. 39(S1). 68-75.

 Nyaagu, N. (2014). About Us.

 Petray, L T. (2011). Protest 2.0: online interactions and Aboriginal activists. Media, Culture & Society. 33(6). 923-940.

 Townsend, P B. (2015). Mob learning – digital communities for remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tertiary students. Journal of Economic & Social Policy. 17(2).;res=IELAPA;search=FTI=yes%20AND%20IS=1325-2224%20AND%20VRF=17%20AND%20IRF=2%20AND%20PY=2015%20AND%20PG=20

41 replies on “The Voice Unheard”

Hi Bruno,
I looked forward to reading yours, as I was interested to see an Indigenous perspective explored in the conference.
It was interesting, I was thinking “I haven’t heard of the #soblakaustralia movement”, and then you mentioned that it was largely ignored by media and political institutions.
Now looking further into IndigenousX and have seen that Guardian is in partnership with them, publishing stories from the group’s writers. It is strange that they all appear to be categorised under the ‘Opinion’ section of their website though..

Hi Lachlan,

Thanks for your comments. Personally, I had not even heard of #sosblakaustralia either, and that in itself became a subject which provided some of the foundation of my paper. I wondered if these stories were simply in that section because there was no other appropriate forum but on second glance perhaps this is power structures and distribution covertly at play?

Yes, this originally what I assumed! I am now questioning that perhaps they are categorised in this way as like other cultural and religious topics, Indigenous ideology can be quite personal and subjective? Hopefully guardian’s adoption of their articles is a step towards a more prominent spotlight on Indigenous journalism which I never realised was so scarce until reflecting on your piece!

Lachlan, that very well may be the case! At the very least, raising awareness is also really important. Its just one more step forward for progress. Thanks again for your comments and perspectives.


Hello Bruno!
I have seen you around the discussion boards, so I was looking forward to reading your paper. Perfect title by the way! It fits your topic well.
I liked your Lumby source, and how he said that social media is used as a tool of self representation. That’s a really interesting comment. Do you agree that social media is a strong tool in regards to better self representation?
I definitely agree social media gives a voice and assists with depicting more Indigenous media. I enjoyed your case study of #soblakaustralia, as it backs up your arguments with solid evidence.
Great work and a good informative read. You did well!

Hi Anne-Marie,
Thanks! To answer your question, I think it can be a good tool for self-representation, but broadly, this establishing of identity and self-representation coincides with the affordances of the platform and the moderation provided by cancel culture in online communities and network and this might act as a constraint in proper self-representation. This is a subject which I intend to look further into (Thanks Emele!) [outside the scope of my paper. Appreciate the comments.

Hey Bruno,
Thanks for the answer. You made a good point with how social media stretches so far!
Would you say that more moderation within social media would be a good thing for more accurate self-representation with less backlash? Or do you think that it could possibly discourage sharing?

Hi Anne-Marie, I think moderation works but knowing where to draw lines could be troublesome. We don’t want to start imposing oppressive censorship either.


Hey Bruno,

I enjoyed reading your piece and noted a lot of cross-over between our two papers.

I was struck by the repetitive use of the phrase “Indigenous voice” and how it was often paired with the idea of being ‘unheard’. I think your reference of @IndigenousX highlights how the multiplicity of tones within the “Indigenous voice” is also a key reason as to why people are perceived as unheard. The ‘mic passing’ model is more responsive to how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander relate to and acknowledge communication and authority, as opposed to commercial media’s idealisation of creating and enforcing singular and leading voices in journalism.

I don’t necessarily agree that the mediatization of journalism is the main constraint actively working against meaningful and impactful political change for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. I do, however, believe it is a major factor. This is perhaps due to you and I having a different understanding of what is meaningful and impactful political change for all parties involved. Living under a colonial regime that has actively worked to diminish the complexity, diversity and existence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander is in itself an act of political resistance. With this in mind, and considering the consequential inequities that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders deal with every day I believe the inception, consistency and growth of @IndigenousX is a major turning point and marker of political change. I refer to Audre Lourde’s quote “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” So whilst it may a while before we see political change in governance, I do believe the pathways of education, connection and sharing that are offered by web 2.0 platforms and facilitated through the Indigenous voice is meaningful. It keeps peoples spirit strong and their fire burning.

Your discussion around the ‘Top Down’ method was really interesting to me, and something I hadn’t thought about much prior to reading your paper. I was particularly drawn to this part, “Celeste Liddle, a prominent opinion writer criticized the campaign as no more than a top-down attempt to sideline and distract from stagnating discussions on land rights and other hotly-debated policy measures (Dreher, et. al, 2016, p.31). Liddle also argued that the dissenting voices against the Recognise campaign were either not heard or were not listened to. ” I echo these sentiments, and agree that it is difficult for grassroots campaigns to compete against the engine power, authority, visibility and budgets of government campaigns that are launched to distract.

And I agree with this “Has the Indigenous voice truly been “heard”? Who is really “listening”?” I’m keen to know how impact is being measured and am excited to research myself. Again, defining impact across stakeholders is difficult as everyone comes to the table with a different agenda, it is however invaluable and necessary.

Nice work Bruno! Great starting point for a vigorous discussion!

Keen to hear your thoughts about my response to your paper!


Hi Emele,

Thank you for your insightful response to my paper. There was definitely cross over between our papers which benefited me in expanding my knowledge and perspective on these topics. I like how you’ve succinctly interpreted that multiplicity of tones in the Indigenous ‘voice’ render it as unheard.

I am happy you disagree somewhat with my statement on mediatization of politics is the main constraint. The perspective you offer provides me with a different route for further research. I also discovered in my research for this paper the existence of structural racism and inherent power distribution in mainstream media and its influence over policy making and perhaps I should’ve elaborated further on this to strengthen my argument. Nonetheless, I appreciate the counter-argument you’ve provided. Thanks again for your comments


Hi Emele,

I just wanted to say thank you for such an interesting response to Bruno’s paper. They help shed light on an issue that is quite new to me. Your comments on the progress these communities are making were insightful and spark hope. Your use of Audre Lourde’s words support this position with great strength.

Thanks again,

Hi Bruno,

I too enjoyed reading your paper and learning something in the process. It has been interesting reading other people’s papers and seeing what they have come up with and how they have been able to use some of the same references in different contexts.

Your mention of “two specific campaigns; one government-sponsored and the other, driven by online Indigenous networks, which had very different outcomes, in the context of both campaigns being organised heavily relying on social media platforms” was interesting because co-incidentally I used the survey (on that same campaign) held on IndigenousX (2015) to address something quite different on Emele’s paper (you might want to read my comments) and yet it also is an example of what you discussed – that is the findings were quite different on each!
The link is here

After reading the part – Betty McLellan, as cited by Petray (2011, p.935), stating “Virtual activism actually benefits those in power, as activists have been systematically excluded from mainstream media and other areas controlled by power elites, and this means dissidents will offer no challenge in the real world”. Made me wonder whether she would revise that statement now considering the powerful effect that movements such as #metoo and #SchoolStrike4Climate have had. Which leads me to the other thought I had after reading your paper.

I think that Indigenous voices have been heard – they just haven’t been listened to (which in part is what you were saying). Whereas the other two that I mentioned before have because they were very topical and so in the interest of politicians to at least seem like they were actively supportive and prepared to do something. Could be wrong but that is my feeling.

I agree with AnneMarie – great title Bruno- got me hooked straight away.

Hello Leone,

Thank you for taking the time to read my paper. Appreciate the perspectives you’ve offered.
I think there was much duplicity in the intentions and agenda behind some of these campaigns! To concur with your point as well, that’s exactly right, that the topical issues were ones it could appear were being addressed, but my opinion is, this was only because it suited them to do so, which is something I also wrote about. I did note much overlap with Emele’s paper, and it is interesting that you actually participated in and were aware of @IndigenousX because of this, which I suppose is one of the positives, that campaigns regardless of their effectiveness, still manage to raise awareness which is just as important.
Thanks again Leone, I shall read your paper shortly, which I’ve been looking forward to.


Hi Bruno,

I happened to be reading and article on The Conversation which had an embedded link into this one

which although not directly related to this particular paper you have written for the conference, I still thought you might be interested in it as it makes for very good reading and might be a stepping stone into the future areas you said you would like to explore further.

Cheers Lee

Thanks Lee, that article provides a few good leads.

Bruno (:

Hi Bruno,

What a well written, logically argued, clear and articulate paper. Well done! It was an interesting read from top to bottom.

I second Lee’s comments on the Betty McLellan quote. In some spheres, ‘virtual activism’ has really turned the tables on existing power structures, proving that it can be a powerful force of its own. It sounds like the Indigenous community are developing sophisticated online methods, but are there any lessons that the Indigenous community can take from the MeToo or SchoolStrike4Climate campaigns?

I was also wondering: who acts as the spokespeople for the organisations you have discussed? Is there a representative nominated to speak to the media or is that type of appointment counter-intuitive to the ‘participatory’ nature of the communities and organisations that you discuss?

This sounds like such an interesting field Bruno, and clearly one that requires a lot more research to develop sound empirical benchmarks. Is it something that you would like to explore in further study?

Thanks for such an interesting contribution to the conference!

Anna! So kind of you. Thanks. I think those campaigns you mentioned, were very effective in influencing a positive and meaningful outcome, but they didn’t have that barrier of structural racism (which perhaps I didn’t elaborate on as much as I should have) so their outcomes were far different as a result, in terms of mainstream media and political impact. There needs to be more Indigenous presence in mainstream media but mostly, in positions of influence in policy making. Until then, I fear campaigns such as #sosblakaustralia can only make so much impact at the policy level, aside from global awareness, which still hasn’t made that much difference either. Since I wrote my paper I’m increasingly reaching a theory of structural racism as another constraint. Something Ill definitely be researching further.
To answer your question, and I should’ve elaborated on this also, ‘spokespersons’ can be a representative of a particular mob or someone that has been publicly vocal in matters of policy and rights, like Eddie Mabo, who had campaigned for years before his famous case for land rights (a voice which was already loud, a topic I’ve also discussed briefly in my paper). You raise an interesting question about the type of appointment, which may be counter-intuitive to these online campaign’s participatory nature. There is a hierarchy which stems from a mob’s elders, which is an almost sacred respect and these elders hold much influence. So not just anyone can speak for a community in regard to influencing policy change or fighting for rights.
Re Eddie and the Mabo decision, I’ve attached links here for further research if you’re interested.
I recently completed an Aboriginal Art and history unit (VIS25 with Barb Bynder) and it sparked an obsession which continues with this paper, now the third one Ive written on Indigenous matters. Aside from Aboriginal History and art, the other side of the fence, politics and media, also command much research so ill definitely be doing more in the future.
Thanks for your awesome comments and taking the time to read my paper. Very much appreciated

Hi Bruno,

Your comment that “fear campaigns such as #sosblakaustralia can only make so much impact at the policy level, aside from global awareness, which still hasn’t made that much difference either” made me think of Georgia’s paper… and now I see that you two have connected and are having a discussion around education versus action online!

It sounds like this area is full of rich research opportunities. You’re clearly passionate, engaged and eager to explore.

I’ll be looking forward to reading future work 🙂

Hi Anna

Ive sent you an email with links and material. Enjoy!


Hi Bruno,
Great work on such an interesting paper. As I read this paper there were things you mentioned such as the #sosblakAustralia movement that I had never heard of, so your examples definitely backed up your argument that the media has a lot of control over what Indigenous Australia try to raise awareness of.
I can relate my paper to your own in regards to thesis and what is being argued. I look at feminism and how social media and Web 2.0 platforms have provided the forum, the connections and the ease, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that leads to change. Awareness doesn’t always mean action, regardless of what side of the fence is stopping it.
Great job, I gained a lot of insight upon reading this paper.

Hello Georgia,
Thank you for reading my paper and your comments. 100% agree that awareness doesnt always mean action, very good point. I note your link to your own paper in the context of feminism which which id like to read and will do so shortly, im sure Ill see the inevitably similar parallels.

Appreciate the comments, cheers.

Hi Bruno

You’ve done an excellent job with your paper – congratulations to you!

I too (as seems to be a common thread in these comments) had never heard about #soblakAustralia, though I am aware of Indigenous X. That in itself is interesting when you consider say the #blacklivesmatter movement in the USA, which has quite a high profile and I would think most would at least be familiar with the term, even if they haven’t read a great deal about the movement. So here we are, pretty much clueless, to movements within our own nation by our own people.

I found your discussion very interesting because it indicates that, although a lot of great work has been done in recent decades in the field of Education and the Arts to further the voice of indigenous Australians, and to share indigenous culture, that voice is not transmitting as effectively (it would appear) in other areas such as media and communication. “Virtual Activism” as mentioned by Anna, is better than the previous traditional forms of mass communication, but given your examples in ‘the voice unheard’ it’s still not making a big enough difference.

Well done Bruno on a very thoughtful argument.


Hello Leanne,

All these things you have pointed out are really the points i wanted to get across in my paper so thanks for providing me that reassurance! As youve seen, i also enjoyed reading your paper. Thanks for the comments and taking the time to read my paper.


Hi Bruno!
I was interested to read in your Dreher reference that activism using an online campaign to organise protests was successful in the case of the Zapatistas back in 1994 (Dreher, 2016).
Do you have any thoughts on what differences might have been key to that case succeeding where #sosblakaustralia failed? 🙂

– Luke

Hi Luke,

Interesting parallel you’ve drawn there, although there was a major difference between the two, one was a declaration of ‘war’ (sort of, but not really) and the other, online activism. I do wonder what might happen if Indigenous people in Australia did suddenly start an uprise, or a revolt. I wonder why it hasnt happened already, following the example of the former campaign. Maybe thats what needs to happen? Zapatistas had a similar outcome as Mabo while both used very different methods. However, without actually saying online activism isnt as effective, bear in mind the colonial link to what happened to Indigenous nations across Australia and that in modern times, power structures in politics and media are connected to that Colonial history, so a theory ive really started to pursue since writing my paper, is the existence of structural racism as a primary constraint in this regard. Thanks for the comments Luke, i had to do some research to answer some of your questions and I learned a lot on the way.


Hi Bruno

I have finally managed to get to your paper! Well done on a great discussion on the importance of giving the First Peoples of Australia a voice. You’ve brought up some great examples, I hadn’t ever heard of #soblackaustralia so that proves your point, whatever happened to that campaign, why did the media nor the government make more of an effort to bring this to our attention? I wonder what would have happened if this was launched today, using apps such as TikTok?

I thoroughly LOVE this rendition of You’re the Voice by Mitch Tambo. He performed on Australia’s Got Talent and the Fire Aid concert. It is strong and resonating and worth sharing, and I believe people like Mitch can help raise voices. People definitely heard, if only the message can spread, politics, hearts and minds can open. The participatory nature of social media could be so powerful in harnessing and rallying people together and to be used for good.

Guardian News. (2020, January 27). Mitch Tambo performs John Farnham’s You’re the Voice in Gamilaraay language. [Video]. YouTube. ]


Thanks for the comments, Indre. What better way than with music to light the path forward! As a musician myself, i find this to be quite a revelation. Maybe all we need is music! You could be onto something there (: Awesome post. Couldn’t agree more.


Hi, Bruno. Very interesting paper. While conducting my research I found sources saying that social media and other new media technologies place minorities and disadvantaged people on an equal footing with others by giving them a voice, so I found your argument that these voices are not heard very compelling. I suppose these tools only give people a voice, but as you say, the voice is unheard. In The Handbook of Internet Studies Kendall states communities can have their voice crushed beneath the voice of the platform, but that this occurs when individuals with a community do not work together. Do you think there needs to be more cooperation within indigenous communities to have their voice heard? I feel, as I gather you feel from your paper, it is more about listening; how do you think we can get those in power to listen to Indigenous Australian voices? I’d also take a look at Chloe Marwick’s paper Wokeness: Performing an identity on Twitter by Chloe Marwick in the Identity in the Communities and Networks stream if you haven’t already , I the contrasts in your two views on the effectiveness of online activism interesting too.

Thank you for the comments and secondly, for the heads up about Chloe’s paper and wow, its now one of my favourite papers in the conference. I left an essay in the comments there lol
I think there is adequate cooperation but it comes down to the barriers that exist in Australia in politics and mainstream media these work to disperse Indigenous voice in what ive started theorising is structural racism at its heart. Reading Chloe’s paper, I would have to place some blame on the actual participants of these campaigns perhaps for their (lack of) effectiveness. This is also a reason online activism has such a bad rep but this wasn’t really a perspective I wanted to explore until id read Chloe’s paper. So I’m not sure how far that rabbit hole goes, but its something for me to research further.
Again, James, appreciate the comments and the heads up! Cheers

Hi Bruno,
I definitely think you’re onto something with the structural racism being a huge part of why it’s so difficult for Indigenous Australians to gain traction with online activism. The bit where you talked about how Indigenous protests were dismissed as disruptive (which I’d argue protests are supposed to be at least a little disruptive to force people to pay attention) or downplayed made me think of the difference I see in how people talk about Indigenous Australians versus white Australians. Usually, it seems protests where the people attending are predominantly white are seen as less disruptive and taken more seriously than when people of other races protest. Or when Indigenous people talk about their issues there seems to be an attitude of their issues not being truly important, or their fault even though there are centuries of racism and Australian governments causing issues. I also see less talk about Indigenous issues or achievements of Indigenous Australians in the news.

Hello Chloe,
Thanks for reading my paper.

I agree that protests should be disruptive, and exactly as you’ve said, that white is portrayed as righteous and its this very language (‘disruptive’) that creates a negative perception, not something for the greater good and that also deflects the truth. I am strongly theorizing the structural racism angle now, and believe this argument is far more compelling. Finding research on that may be challenging. This structural racism theory has many layers.

I could go on for hours, but ill spare you that and instead suggest some highly recommended reading:

Some time ago, i read two books which changed my life:

First Australians (,contains,first%20australians&sortby=date&facet=frbrgroupid,include,13448557&offset=0)

and Blood on the wattle,,contains,blood%20on%20the%20wattle&sortby=date&facet=frbrgroupid,include,13021937&offset=0

both books changed my perspectives and certainly challenged the very knowledge i had been taught in school about the history of this country. This became the foundation for my interest in these matters. This paper is just one result of that. I think everyone should read these books.

Thanks again for the comments.


Hello Bruno,
I wish you luck with the research into structural racism. Thanks for the book recommendations, I’ll definitely give them a read at some point.

Hello again Bruno, I really enjoyed reading your paper, solid work. Your points were well made, concisely written, with an overall good flow. One point I would make though, is the use of the singular ‘voice’. I understand the need for conceptual encapsulation to cover complexity, but the conceptualisation/treatment of ATSI people as a monolith tends to be an area where misunderstandings tend to creep in in an unhelpful manner (in my experience). I’m unsure as to the current count of mobs but the AIATSIS map is about as good of a basic representation of the number of different cultural groups on the continent. There is even further fractionation than that, but suffice to say that those cultural group differences still live on today among those that are culturally connected, and can provide a barrier to concensus on important issues, even beyond those imposed by the impacts of colonialism. I feel like we’re skirting poli sci and game theory territory in terms of the potential underlying mechanisms at play here, although I think your point towards inherent systemic bias has merit, and as you have done some historical reading I’m sure you’re aware of some of its roots. The intersection of politics, media and culture is a complicated place to wrangle answers from and I think that political thinkers of the past probably have relevant points to make when it comes to what moves the levers of power in politics in terms of motivations. Once again though, good work and thank you for your important contribution to the stream, both your paper and your energetic commentary.


Thanks for reading my paper and your comments. Perhaps ‘voices’ is more appropriate.
I did not consider the internal mechanics of the relationships and connections between different mobs and how these might affect the cohesiveness of a united ‘voice’. This is something for me to explore and research further; yours is an insight which fills a few gaps in my previous research when writing this paper, so thank you for raising that point.


Hi Bruno,

An interesting read and very important choice for your paper. A great insight of your views on the topic and well thought about. I liked the way you introduced your points with sub headings good work. Social media plays a huge part in society and gives everyone a voice. The topic you chose sounds like your very passionate about and well done on creating a discussion. Do you think there can be more done in the future to ensure Indigenous Australians are always heard?
I really enjoyed understanding more about your paper.


Thank you, Kaye, appreciate the comments. I think there needs to be a stronger and more visible Indigenous presence(s) in politics and mainstream media. That’s a good start. I’m still waiting to see this happen.


Hi Bruno,

Well done on a well-written and well-researched paper! I think that you have clearly articulated the issue of online presence, self-representation, expression, activism, kinship and communication in online SNSs and the somewhat not so successful outcomes for Indigenous people. In other words, that is the “Voice Unheard” indeed.

The question I have is how has pseudonymity and or transparent identities shaped the Indigenous voice in online communities, and therefore offline as well?

Good luck!


Hi again Bayayi!

Thank you for reading my paper and raising some interesting questions. I think the existence of pseudonymity and transparent identities is one to explore further. These definitley exist and much of that is linked to ‘true’ self-representation, because of the way communities ‘moderate’ those who claim indigeneity and so on and so forth. I did uncover more information in these contexts in my readings about Facebook and Indigenous communities and networks use of that platform, by Bronwyn Lumby (2007). Considering returning to that reading which might provide and answer to those questions.

Thanks again and all the best


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