Online tools and social media platforms in particular, are recognised as important for social movements to achieve political goals, and as an avenue of political engagement and self-expression for members of marginalised communities (Anderson et al., 2018) and although activism on social media platforms has been criticized as weak, “push-button activism” (Landzelius, cited in Petray 2011, p. 934), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people use these platforms to express culture, establish kinship, and improve sociopolitical outcomes. The abilities they confer of ease, timeliness, scale, and efficiency of communication are unmatched by their offline counterparts and allow for increased awareness on a direct, local level as well as the potential to bring global awareness to specific issues. By examining Indigenous social media usage practices, with an emphasis on Aborignal and Torres Strait Islander usage of Facebook, this paper seeks to: (I) investigate how the platform is used to extend culture, kinship and community, (II) examine how it is used to improve sociopolitical outcomes, (III) address some of the questions raised about the nature of support for effective political activism at the intersection of off/online activism and social theory/practice and (IV) examine aspects of successful activism and map their applicability Facebook as an effective tool.
Elders and Kinship: Key Cultural Practice Moves to Facebook
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people use social media platforms to extend offline culture and kinship and strengthen community; this is especially true for Facebook, where Indigenous Australian usage rates are significantly higher than that of the general population, with the most engaged users among the youth (Rice et al., 2016). In examining Indigenous community structures there are a number of significant aspects that particulary stand out, with a notable example being the primacy of Elders. “Traditionally, Elders have played a pivotal role in community wellbeing and more recently, the active participation of Elders in the governance of their community has shown to produce a number of benefits, including reversal of cultural erosion.” (Busija et al., 2018). Contemporarily, Elders are leading fixtures in supportive community activities both activistic and general, such as spending time on boards battling for political and cultural rights, and rounding up and returning truanting children to school. This is reflected online, as Australian Indigenous activist leaders utilise sites like Facebook heavily in order to both publicly affirm their identities and to inform and coordinate their activist activities (Petray, 2011), although there is also a notable technical gap that can require assistance to bridge in the older generations. Another central difference of Indigenous community structures to consider is the role of kinship ties and the importance of family. This has been succintly summarised by Ningali Lawford, an Indigenous actor from Western Australia: “Family is our life, family is our culture, family is language, family is everything to us” (O’Casey, cited in Warburton & Chambers, 2008, p. 4). Major benefits can be seen in Facebook’s use as a means of tracking down and reuniting family members that were lost through the Stolen Generations, as well as the practice of using closed groups to transmit and disseminate sensitive cultural information such as stories and language (Carlson & Frazer, 2018). An interesting observation also emerges about the potential inappropriateness of the use of the term kinship at the intersection of mapping a foreign language to a native concept when we see how this applies in a broader cultural context:
What is different, though, about cultural burning, is that it starts from taking a holistic approach with the understanding that everything is interconnected: plants, animals, insects, humans, the weather. Westerners call it an ecosystem, indigenous Australians term it “kinship,” an acknowledgement that the bonds between species are emotional, in addition to functional. (Betigeri, 2020, p1)
Communication is key to maintaining and enhancing emotional bonds and social relations, especially those aforementioned, and it has been shown that particularly in remote communites,where the strain of distance on maintaining meaningful contact is exacerbated, Aboriginal people are “dependent on Facebook as a means of instant and affordable communication” (Callinan, 2014). It has also been acknowledged by Lumby that: “Facebook acts as a modern site for kinship connectivity and continuity” (Lumby, 2010). As we can see, by limiting the impacts of distance, disconnectedness and cost while providing appropriate virtual spaces, key aspects of Indigenous communities and culture are expanded, enhanced and strengthened through the use of Facebook.
Surveying the Sociopolitical Battlescape
Facebook is also used by activists to improve sociopolitical outcomes for their communities. The context of Indigenous activism in Australia could be described as a litany of the ongoing effects of colonialism. ‘Terra Nullius’, the Sydney Smallpox Epidemic of 1789, the Great Black Line, the Myall Creek Massacre, the Apartheid Beta Test in Queensland aka the Aboriginal Protection Act, Stolen Generations, Deaths in Custody, The Northern Territory ‘Intervention’, etc. With that in mind, broader social issues facing Indigenous Australians also find expression online, “with traumatic events in the public domain acting as reminders of ongoing colonialism” (Carlson et al., 2017). Taking this into account it is no surprise that a recent study on Indigenous social media usage by Carlson and Frazer found that “88% of survey respondents had seen examples of racism towards Indigenous people on social media”, “almost all participants had seen anti-black racism on Facebook” and because of this “many participants avoided ‘identifying’ as Indigenous online” (Carlson & Frazer, 2018). This supports the argument that being Indigenous online is inherently political (Petray, 2013), and could possibly account for high rates of Indigenous activistic activity on social media. Active push back against racism has always been a fundamental activity for activists and the online environment provides ample opportunities for these users-cum-activists to engage with detractors, with the provision of relevant, contradictory information being a frequently employed strategy. This can be seen as an attempt at bridging the gap with both the wider community on Facebook, and that of the wider Australian community of platform users. The platform is also recognised as a popluar method for engaging in community politics, particularly with regard to responsbilities and obligations surrounding Sorry Business, which can be punitivlely enforced and prove difficult to fulfil due to the distances involved (Carlson & Frazer, 2016). There are abnormally high death rates amongst the Aboriginal population, particularly in remote communities, and death is a far more common occurrence with surveyed funeral attendance levels speaking volumes:
Our funeral attendance survey indicated non-Aboriginal people were eight times less likely to have attended a funeral in the last two years than Aboriginal people. More than half of Aboriginal respondents attended seven or more funerals; more than one third between 12 and 30 funerals in the same period. (Anderson et al., 2012, p. 26)
Considering the key cultural, communal and political importance of Sorry Business, the ability afforded to engage with it online via Facebook can been seen to be of significant value for those that utilise it. Social media is also a valuable utility in issues surrounding Indigenous Australians’ willingness to seek formal assistance, Indigenous people use their online networks as a more palatable, informal work-around for things such as problems with wellbeing and access to legal services. Carlson and Frazer found that “Indigenous people are engaging with Facebook both to seek and to offer help for issues relating to self-harm and suicide.” (Carlson & Frazer, 2018), with online support networks actively, internally monitoring wellbeing and providing support for those percieved to be at-risk. Engaging with Indigeneity online is an inherently political activity, with Facebook being a valuable tool for activists to fight against and ameliorate a diverse range of sociopolitical problems facing their communities.
Criticism and Case-Studies
Activism on social media platforms has recieved criticism for being weak and ineffectual, with the underlying reasoning being rooted in a number of social theories of virtual community and examples seen in social case studies. The dominant, relevant, recurring theme on the theory side, is the centrality of the individual as stated by Delanty in his overview of the major theories in the field: “The virtual community … where a new kind of individualism has emerged around ephemeral realities and de-massified social relations.” (Delanty, 2018, p. 205). This is typified by Wellman’s theory of networked individualism where “Rather than identifying with a single, close-knit community, each networked individual sits at the center of a set of personal networks” (Kendall, 2011, p. 311). This maps well in terms of systems generally (email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc.), and is seemingly an unavoidable effect of the necessarily user-centric design of systems that can scale globally, that are primarily concerned with connecting individuals to one another. While not the only relevant theories, the key connecting thread between them is the thinness of the networks that compose them, which is to say that the connections that govern them are defined by being weakly connected, inorganic and unladen of responsibility and/or obligation (Delanty, 2018). Manifestations of this have been variously described as “slacktivism” (Mozorov, cited in Carlson & Frazer, 2016) and ‘push-button’ activism because social media allows people to send signals of support for issues, without having any real stakes or being involved in any substantive sense in them, with it being attributable and inherent, to an extent, to the design of the system itself (Petray, 2011). This has also been termed by more mainstream pundits as ‘virtue-signalling’. Two case studies that have been held as examples are those of the #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA campaign, and the e-petition in favour of the charges being dropped against Lex Wotton after the riot that followed the death of Mulrunji (Cameron Doomagee) while in the “care” of Chris Hurley on Palm Island, Queensland in 2004. #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA was a response to the proposed forces closures of Western Australian remote Aboriginal communities because of funding disputes between the state and federal governments. It was initially composed of a website (Cook, 2015) and Facebook page, which were rapidly followed by a Twitter account and staked out the communities wishes to engage and collaborate with the government on solutions to the unwanted closures. It is outside the scope of this paper to investigate more fully, but apart from some apparent success with memetically based information warfare against the institutional narratives around the issues there have not been any apparent substantive policy changes that can be attributed to it (Carlson & Frazer, 2016). The literature surrounding Lex Wotton covers the setting up of an e-petition in favour of dropping his charges which attracted total of 404 signatures from around the globe and had no apparent effect (Petray, 2011). Around four years after the riot he was found guilty and sentenced to seven years imprisonment. A following class action law-suit that was filed in relation to the events of the riot and subsequent police response was also resolved in 2018 in favour of the residents of Palm Island, with the Queensland government having to pay $30m and apologise to the residents (Davidson, 2018). There has been substantial criticism by social theorists on the efficacy of online activism that has a basis in recognised theories, which has been borne out on numerous occaisons in case studies.
The Pace of Political Change vs Social Media
The reality of effective sociopolitical change is that it is slow, but social media is proving to be a valuable aid. When examining meaningful wins for ATSI activists we can see that things do not change quickly or without fighting every step of the way. One of the most illustrative examples is the Mabo High Court decision in 1992 (Mabo v Queensland (No. 2), 1992) where it took over two hundred years for the foundational doctrine of terra nullius to be overturned. Even interpreted far more charitably, if the time of contention is counted from the that of the far lesser known Milirrpum v Nabalco pty Ltd (1971), which is the only other comprehensive attempt at challenging it (Lavery, 2017) (where, incidentally and somewhat ironically, it wasn’t even considered), there is still a gap of around twenty one years, which is longer than Facebook’s entire lifetime (Phillips, 2017). Even the surprisingly positive outcome in the class action surrounding the death of Mulrunji was fourteen years in the making. Courts, legislative bodies and societal attitudes are not known for their speed when it comes to meaningful, long-term change. Dealing with these systems does not entail being conducive to quick or easy fixes, which tend to be the solutions du jour peddled the world over on social media platforms with Facebook being no exception. On a positive note, these platforms do provide a valuable aid in evening the asymmetry of the battlefield with regard to informational warfare around institutional and false narratives about ATSI people and as far as Facebook in particular is concerned, if its usage trends continue along the same upward trajectory (McQuarter, 2014), those of old media continue to decline(Westcott et al., 2018), and the younger ranks of Indegenous users continue to hone their digital media savvy(Rice et al., 2016), it is only a matter of time until it goes from a useful tool to an essential one. Upon examining some of the timeframes involved with meaningful activist outcomes and using them as a background to contrast the relative infancy and growth of social media platforms against their utility, they can be seen to be becoming increasingly essential.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are enthusiastically moving into online spaces and are using Facebook as much as a tool of cultural promulgation and dissemination as of social interaction. With the high rates of activism being as much a product of being Indigenous online as any other attributable factor, even arguably moreso, Indigenous people are using it to effectively push back on established misinformation and institutional disinformation. Social media activism has credibly been critcised as falling short when not used appropriately or as an end in and of itself to effect change. It is also apparent that the pace of developments around meaningful activistic successes and that of social media are at odds, but social media tools and Facebook in particular are increasingly useful aids in that regard. Moving forward it can be safely said that it, or whatever might take its place in future will be indispensible to success in the activist realm.
References (APA 7th)
Anderson, Maria, Bilney, J., Bycroft, N., Cockatoo-Collins, D., Creighton, G., Else, J., Faulkner, C., French, J., Liddle, T., Miller, A., & Miller, J. (2012). Closing the gap: Support for Indigenous loss. Australian Nursing Journal, 19(10).
Anderson, Monica, Toor, S., Rainie, L., & Smith, A. (2018, July 11). Activism in the Social Media Age. Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech; Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2018/07/11/activism-in-the-social-media-age/
Betigeri, A. (2020, January). How Australia’s Indigenous Experts Could Help Australia Deal With Devastating Wildfires. Time. https://time.com/5764521/australia-bushfires-indigenous-fire-practice
Busija, L., Cinelli, R., Toombs, M. R., Easton, C., Hampton, R., Holdsworth, K., Macleod, BPsySc(Hons), A., Nicholson, G. C., Nasir, B. F., Sanders, K. M., & McCabe, M. P. (2018). The Role of Elders in the Wellbeing of a Contemporary Australian Indigenous Community. The Gerontologist, 60(3), 513–524. https://doi.org/10.1093/geront/gny140
Callinan, T. (2014, August 27). Remote Indigenous Australians rely on Facebook to stay in touch. NITV. https://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/nitv-news/article/2014/08/26/remote-indigenous-australians-rely-facebook-stay-touch
Carlson, B., & Frazer, R. (2016). Indigenous Activism and social Media A Global Response to #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA. In A. McCosker (Ed.), Negotiating digital citizenship : Control, contest and culture. Rowman and LIttlefield International.
Carlson, B., & Frazer, R. (2018). Social Media Mob: Being Indigenous Online. Macquarie University.
Carlson, B. L., Jones, L. V., Harris, M., Quezada, N., & Frazer, R. (2017). Trauma, Shared Recognition and Indigenous Resistance on Social media. Australasian Journal of Information Systems, 21(21). https://doi.org/10.3127/ajis.v21i0.1570
Cook, S. (2015, March 20). SOS BLAK AUSTRALIA. Web.Archive.Org. https://web.archive.org/web/20150320082825/http://www.sosblakaustralia.com/
Davidson, H. (2018, May 1). Queensland to pay Palm Islanders $30m over police response to 2004 riots. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/may/01/queensland-to-pay-palm-islanders-30m-over-police-response-to-2004-riots
Delanty, G. (2018). Virtual community: belonging as communication. In Community. Routledge.
Kendall, L. (2011). Community and the Internet. In The Handbook of Internet Studies. Wiley Online Library.
Landzelius, K. (2006). The meta-native and the militant activist: virtually saving the rainforest. In Native on the Net: Indigenous and Diasporic Peoples in the Virtual Age. (pp. 112–131). Routledge.
Lavery, D. (2017). ’Not purely of law’ : the doctrine of backward peoples in Milirrpum. James Cook University Law Review, 23(2017).
Lumby, B. (2010). Cyber-Indigeneity: Urban Indigenous Identity on Facebook. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 39(S1), 68–75. https://doi.org/10.1375/s1326011100001150
MABO AND OTHERS v. QUEENSLAND (No. 2)  HCA 23; (1992) 175 CLR 1, (1992).
McQuarter, K. (2014). Infographic: Facebook’s 10th Birthday – the rise of the social media giant. The Drum. https://www.thedrum.com/news/2014/02/03/facebook-10
Petray, T. L. (2011). Protest 2.0: online interactions and Aboriginal activists. Media, Culture & Society, 33(6), 923–940. https://doi.org/10.1177/0163443711411009
Petray, T. L. (2013). Self-writing a movement and contesting indigeneity: being an Aboriginal activist on social media. Global Media Journal: Australian Edition, 7(1), 1–20. https://researchonline.jcu.edu.au/28188/
Phillips, S. (2017, July 15). A brief history of Facebook. The Guardian; The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2007/jul/25/media.newmedia
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(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12939-016-0366-0
Warburton, J., & Chambers, B. (2007). Older Indigenous Australians: their integral role in culture and community. Australasian Journal on Ageing, 26(1), 3–7. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-6612.2007.00213.x
Wellman, B. (2001). Little Boxes, Glocalization, and Networked Individualism. Digital Cities II Computational and Sociological Approaches.
Westcott, K., Loucks, J., Srivastava, S., & Ciampa, D. (2018, October 5). Digital media segments: Looking beyond generations. Deloitte Insights. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/industry/telecommunicatios/media-consumption-behavior-across-generations.html
28 replies on “Contention in Context: Social Media as an Effective Tool for Indigenous Online Dissidence”
I enjoyed reading your paper! I learned some new terms which I always love, like ‘Sorry Business’, and the difference between misinformation and disinformation.
Do you know if there is a feeling of safety online, for indigenous communities?
And is it common for Indigenous people to feel they need to use pseudonyms online, to protect their offline identities from the consequences of their online actions and activism?
Hi Luke, firstly thank you for taking the time to read my paper, I’m really glad you enjoyed it, learned some interesting, new things and came armed with curiosity and questions. To the feeling of safety, what I was able to glean from the research was fairly in line with my personal experience, the young are fearless, there is a knowledge gap that impedes many elders and Indigenous people face a lot of the same attitudes and prejudices online as they do off. This is expected and generally accepted as a price of identification, although the consequences are generally far more ephemeral and I would say non-consequential online than off. As far as the use of pseudonyms is concerned, again, I found the data indicative of what I know in terms of the fact that most Australian Indigenous people are proud of their heritage and have no problem with identifying, although there are those (that can get away with it) that have reasonable reservations around it. That is to say ATSI people want it to be known and advertise the fact, with pride, deliberately because they know that there are those that would just as well like to see them shut up, disappear and sweep some of the less palatable realities of colonial history and its repercussions under the rug and out of the public space and consciousness. I think this reasonably implies that the use rate of psuedonyms is likely lower amongst ATSI people, although I did not find any hard data on that specific question. It would be interesting to get relevant data with regard to you points though, but it would require clarification on the specifics around community in this case. I answered in general, but I think it pays to be aware that some confusion could arise due to “community” colloquially referring to remote Aboriginal communities (such as those referred to by #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA). I hope these answers to your queries are helpful, and please let me know if you have any more.
Those were helpful and fascinating answers, thanks for the response! Your speculation that ATSI people are less likely to use pseudonyms sounds probably true to me. I did some quick looking around Google Scholar and couldn’t find anything surveying ATSI opinions on the issue, but I did find this interesting description of the benefits and harms of anonymizing the information gleamed from Indigenous people during studies and research:
What an interesting passage. It makes sense that there can’t be attribution where there is no identification, and by extension used as a means of dispossession. That is an intriguing (but relevant) interpretation of a potential mechanism, obviously with the key factor being the dispossession itself.
Great to see another paper in our stream, which was just a party of 2 until now. Our papers have very similar premises but from different ends of the spectrum. You agree that social media platforms can be criticized as you put it as’ push-button’ activism, but social media platforms also provide tools for effective self-representation and connections to country, kinship and establishing identity, among other things, which I touched on briefly in my paper. You’ve gone on to elaborate greatly on the positive aspects of social media platforms and online networks and communities and this is a perspective that needs as much attention. Thank you for your explanations on elders which I only discussed in the comments to my paper and could’ve discussed further to provide background. Your points raised about the stolen generations and how Facebook played a role in reuniting family members. I didn’t know this and will research that in depth.
I had an interesting conversation here on Anna Pollards paper about racism, right wing extremism and social media and that actually ties in with your references to racism experienced by Indigenous people on social media, leading to a hesitation to utilise the platforms. This is certainly a line of enquiry worth investigating further.
Your elaboration on #sosblakaustralia astounded me in that it could very well have been a digression from the same subject in my paper. Appreciate that you’ve put time and solid research into your paper, it was a fantastic read, which I felt could’ve been a digression from topics I raised in my own paper. Kind of like a prequel piece!
My point is that there are obvious constraints that create barriers that prevent Indigenous voices being ‘heard’ in influencing policy change and rendering online activism as largely impotent, and I’ve been hypothesising that this is a product of structural racism and the way power is distributed in mainstream media and its influences over policy making.
Thanks for your valuable contribution to the conference and our stream. Please have a read of Emele’s paper which is also fantastic.
Hello Bruno, thank you for your warm, expansive and interesting reply, as well as for taking the time to read my paper. I chose to cover those specific differences between non/Indigenous communities in an effort to elucidate basic, major differences where I have seen misunderstanding occur that negatively impacts discussions and that I thought could potentially be most instructive to non-Indigenous people.
My findings on the Stolen Generations I must admit did surprise me somewhat, but make a lot of sense. Although one thing I didn’t see reflected in the literature that I have seen many cases of are the issues around those generations’ lighter-skinned progeny’s problems around identification due to cultural disconnection and let’s just say, genetic “distance”. It was somewhat alluded to, but no distinct connection was drawn. Interesting theory on policy, I will investigate and comment more specifically on your paper itself, although I will say that that is a doozy of a topic, with a lot of moving parts and many layers to a comprehensive answer. I did try to address that to an extent when I covered Mabo’s success in the High Court, but obviously to really dig into where those effective levers lie and how they are manipulated is off-topic and out of scope for the purposes of my paper. Suffice to say that in Mabo’s case it was the improper use of law which was addressed (not that the Queensland govt didn’t attempt to retroactively and somewhat hypocritically, change it). In that case the State govt’s cover attempt would seem to support your theory to a degree, but I think the fact that the system was held accountable by its own standards was a key factor. Could you please link to the discussion on Pollards paper? Once again, thanks for your warm regards and interesting comments, and I look forward to engaging with your and Emele’s papers.
Btw Talep, please forgive my typo of your name lol i cant edit it either for some reason !
No worries Bruno, that is not unusual for me. I tried to edit “no distinct connection was drawn” above to no avail, so I’m having the same issues.
Your paper was an interesting read. I had heard that use of Facebook was higher among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but hadn’t put much though into why. It makes sense why now, it’s such a handy tool!
It’s a pity that online activism hasn’t been very helpful for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people when it has been helpful for other minorities and groups.
Hello Chloe, thank you for taking the time to read my paper, I’m happy that you found it interesting as composing it was rather challenging. As far as the successes around online activism are concerned I think there are number of factors involved, I am peripherally aware of some of the actions outside Australia due to the general readings in the stream, but really wanted to focus on the local, national context specifically. I did address a major factor when contrasting the timescale for impactful legal and political successes with the age of the platform, but there could be something there in looking at the differences between the sociopolitical structures of those places where there has been more success. That could be an interesting thread to investigate, could you give me some examples?
I understand writing the paper being challening, mine gave me issues, too.
I understand sticking to a more local topic and really doing a deep dive on it like you have.
I’m not really sure of how much other movements have had wins in the legal/government policy basket because of online activism, exactly, but Twitter is a really big part of the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S. and I’ve heard that in countries such as South Korea and Taiwan social media has been important part of their feminist movement’s over the last few years. So, I meant more helpful in terms of spreading awareness and fostering public support for different issues rather than creating changes in the law. Although, there was a large plastic straw debate online a couple years ago that resulted in a couple cities in the U.S. creating new laws around single-use plastic straws.
Hi Chloe and Talep,
Just a note, I found that the #MeToo movement in the US played a key role in amending legislation that deals with how sexual misconduct allegations are handled in Congress (Sabur, 2018). It’s a bit outside the overarching topic of Talep’s paper, but it is an example of online activism having an effect on legislation.
Sabur, R. ( 2018, December 13). ‘MeToo’ victory in US Congress as politicians change sexual harassment rules. The Telegraph. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/12/13/metoo-victory-us-congress-politicians-change-sexual-harassment/
Hello Anna, thank you for your input. I would say that technically that is correct, however, in that case I wouldn’t consider that to a be a particularly effective or substantive example. The major example I gave of the Mabo decision opened up ground for land rights claims to all ATSI people, whereas the Bill mentioned in that article covers is an extremely edge case of financial liability in the case of a Congressman’s misconduct. The fact that it wasn’t the case in the first place is ridiculous, and quite possibly goes a long way to explaining why it was passed.
Hi Chloe, I think this is where the rubber hits the road as far as activism is concerned. Perceived public support is one thing, but if it can’t be leveraged into tangible support resulting in action that applies sufficient pressure for change… Well, I wouldn’t say it counts for much then. With the more wide reaching and long lasting, the better. Awareness is massive though, as I think the amount of dehumanisation and othering of Aboriginal people in particular has had a huge impact on broader cultural impressions and stereotypes.
You have staked your claim and have ably argued your points to a logical conclusion.
In your conclusion, you mentioned that social media and online platforms will inevitably become increasing important in community building and cohesion, as well as dissemination of information on the indigenous perspectives and agendas. I agree that every voice must be heard, and equality is an ideal of democracy, both online and offline. I would add that SNSs and online communities have become empowerment platforms, so to speak, as is the case here.
Did you find that indigenous peoples in remote are able to access social media communities easily or not? There would be other challenges such as the likely higher internet charges in those areas too, are there not?
Hello Bayayi, thank you for your response, praise, and for taking the time to read my paper (cool name, btw). I agree with your thought on SNS’s as empowerment platforms, my only qualm would be that as much as they can be an effective means of spreading information, due to the nature of how the information is stored and the rights attributions (private companies, on overseas servers, etc.), they are far from ideal as reliable means of preservation or archiving of said information. As to the remote access situation, most homes do not have Internet access or computers, and it seems as if the majority of access is achieved through smartphones on public hotspots. A 2016 study I found (internet access remote indigenous communities australia study) also put the smartphone ownership rate at 44%, which is still quite low compared to the general population. I agree with your assessment as it certainly seems as if there are many unique challenges to the provision of these services in remote areas and in digging around to find out a bit more I found a site that might interest you if you want to know more – accan.org.au ( Australian Communications Consumer Action Network) and a study of theirs from 2011 with some interesting findings (https://accan.org.au/files/SWIN-CLC-CATHomeInternet.pdf). I hope these answers are helpful and look forward to reading your paper also, as it seems you picked quite the interesting topic. Thanks again.
Really interesting topic you chose, I was really looking forward to reading your paper!
You gave a great introduction – it was short and outlined your thesis perfectly.
I liked how you brought up how much Facebook helped with broadening connections within the Indigenous community. It was great to see how much social networks have assisted with keeping in contact and up to date.
With your activism angle, I had a question: Do you think social media helps lend a voice to Indigenous individuals in telling their story and increasing understanding of their culture for others outside their community? Would you say even just sharing their story could be considered activism as it does raise awareness?
I also was wondering, with the pandemic going on, do you think Facebook has helped Indigenous communities stay in touch and informed with one another?
Hello AnneMarie, thanks for your warm comments, I’m glad my paper proved informative for you. I think that Facebook’s role in highlighting individuals perspectives, experiences, and how they relate to their Mob/s, etc. is one of its greatest strengths. You applied voice to the individual here, but I am somewhat wary of this as there is a tendency for ATSI peoples to be treated a monolith, with the ensuing, unintended homogenisation causing unnecessary and unhelpful misunderstanding. The second point speaks to my assertion of identification being inherently political and thus those that identify able to be considered activists. As far as covid-19 is concerned, it seems to have been of value to Indigenous Health Services and health and wellbeing communications. An example on Facebook is the Faces of the Straits (video: https://www.facebook.com/facesofthestraits/videos/691888971621120/) page. There are also several good examples on Instagram (#keepourmobsafe, ahcwa_youth and jonathanthurstonacademy).
Thanks for a great read. My research was once treated on the role of virtual communities in online gaming, but this would probably have to be my favourite stream, because of such insightful reads like this. We’re you mention the reversal of cultural erosion, I think that’s a great point because SNS’s lend themselves well to archiving stories and facts, and them making those treasures easily accessible to the community. Thanks for defining what kinship means to indigenous Australians, it’s clear to see the different contexts that may otherwise be viewed through separate lenses. I wonder why SNS participation is significantly higher amongst the indigenous community then the general population, did you find anything that may explain this?
Thanks again for your contribution, and If you would like to read another paper from the Virtual Communities and Online gaming stream, mine can be found at:
Interesting paper. Do you think Facebook is the best platform out there in the social media world for Indigenous Australian activism? Related to Chloe’s point, Twitter seems to me a sharper and more effective means of gaining political attention than Facebook. Particularly if a hashtag goes viral and permeates into the broader consciousness of a population. Black Lives Matter and MeToo seem pretty stark examples of that. That being said, I suspect Facebook is a better platform for organising political action than Twitter.
Following on from that point, I’m also curious to know how (or if) the Indigenous community has embraced TikTok. Talep, did you come across any research relating to Indigenous communities in Australia using TikTok when you were writing your paper?
Hello Anna, unfortunately Tik Tok was outside the scope of my investigation. The furthest afield I got was Twitter and even that was peripheral at best.
Hello Duncan, thanks for your comment, I’m glad you found my paper interesting. I think the different platforms potentially have roles to play, according to their affordances and a comprehensive and cohesive strategy would pay the biggest dividends. Twitter is useful for real time organisation, where transparency isn’t an issue, and folksonomies do seem to lend themselves well to virality. Facebook seems more suited to general organisational and logistical concerns whereas Instagram is better at displaying personal/narrower narratives. Gaining attention, organising and taking action are one thing, but the effects of such need to be considered.
Congratulations on such a well written, logical and compelling paper. I’ve found the resulting discussions to be very interesting as well. You make a strong argument that Facebook is an effective tool for Indigenous communities in so many different areas, from recording stories and language to seeking medical or legal assistance.
You discussed the issue of internet access in remote areas with Bayayi. I was also interested in the issue of technical gaps with the older generation. Do you know how the Elders are supported to gain the skills they need to be able to use Facebook effectively?
In terms of activism, how do you think the Indigenous community can use platforms like Facebook to create real and meaningful socio-political change? Do you think there are any ‘quick wins’ that could be gained, or is it all about the long game? Can the platforms themselves be used for mobilising the people and resources required to do that? Or, as I discussed with Bruno and Georgia, are they more about educating people on a broader level?
Lots of questions, sorry! Most of them are probably rhetorical, but if you have some further thoughts I would be very happy to hear them 🙂
Thanks again Talep!
Hello Anna, thank you for your praise, but I have to admit that my choice of stream was motivated by curiosity about the research itself, as I thought it would be instructive to find out what is being written about my peoples. My personal experience and understanding of cultural differences informed many of my choices, particularly my coverage of elders and kinship, as I felt that they would be the most instructive, impactful and potentially educational. I’m not aware of any formal programs to address tech literacy among elders, but it seems as if it is becoming an increasing necessity.
I think SNS’s humanising qualities are a massive benefit. Dehumanisation is appears to be necessary for a psychologically stable (non-pathological) person to commit heinous and evil acts against others, and I think the ‘othering’ of Indigenous peoples (generally) has played a large part in the historical and current perpetration of such acts.
Every war is made up of many battles, just like complex tasks are reducible to their component parts. Small victories add up, and while quick and sudden shifts can have great impact, I think the real test of effectiveness is over the long term. Perceived support has to manifest in measurable, tangible, sustained change. I hope these answers suffice, and thank you for taking the time to read my paper and engage in this discussion.
I really enjoyed your paper. I thought of Edward Snowden’s comments that privacy is the space which we forge away from government and corporate knowledge and interference. I wondered if you thought there was concern amongst activists and particularly indigenous activists, who are so negatively impacted by government actions, that Facebook’s data sharing practices made it an unsafe space for sharing information and data. Or if perhaps they felt that sacrificing privacy was worth it.
Hello Nicola, thanks for your response and thoughtful questions. I’m unsure as to the extent of awareness about data sharing practices between governments, businesses and SNS’s as this was somewhat beyond the scope of my paper. I can only say I didn’t encounter anything covering those particular concerns, although data security is generally a very niche topic, much like cryptography itself. I do think that the general awareness being raised by Snowden and Facebook’s various leaks is for the public good though as it is becoming increasingly important and wider education around it is necessary.
I like reading your paper as it is a very interesting topic about the Indigenous people and Facebook.
You have discussed well the Indigenous people’s use of Facebook to extend their culture, kinship ties and their community; improve socio-political outcomes by activists; support for effective political activism; and map its use as an effective tool. As you pointed out “the role of kinship ties and the importance of family to Indigenous community” and as Ningali Lawford said “Family is our life, family is our culture, family is language, family is everything to us” shows the strength of family ties among Indigenous people which is remarkable.
It is interesting to learn that the indigenous people are “dependent on Facebook as a means of instant and affordable communication” and used it as a means “to track down and reunite the Stolen Generations” as stated in your paper. It is good that Facebook has been used as a tool for a great cause. I have also read about the #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA campaign in protest against closing of 150 remote aboriginal communities in West Australia and how Facebook was used as a tool for the campaign that reached worldwide support.
It is sad to learn as you cited that “88% of survey respondents had seen examples of racism towards Indigenous people on social media …with anti-black racism on Facebook” still exists in this digital age.
I agree that the growing use of social media tools by the Indigenous (Aborignal and Torres Strait Islander) people such as Facebook would be an indispensable and useful tool for their successful activism in the future.