Social media has revolutionised how we communicate. In this series, we look at how it has changed the media, politics, health, education and the law.
In many countries around the world, Indigenous people make up only small percentages of the population. But at a time when “news no longer breaks, it tweets” – with information travelling faster than the mainstream media can keep up – social media has become an increasingly powerful way to make our voices heard.
I’m currently in the United States, working on a special issue of the Australasian Journal of Information Systems on Indigenous people and social media activism. While here, I’ve been able to closely follow one of the largest Native American protests in modern US history.
Social media has helped the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe attract national and global support in their fight to protect sacred sites and water supplies from a 1,900 kilometre pipeline, expected to carry 470,000 barrels of oil a day just north of their reservation. (Follow the latest #NoDAPL developments on Twitter, YouTube, Medium, Instagram or see the Aboriginal flag flying at the Sacred Stone Camp via its Facebook page.)
Social media is also crucial to #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA – a campaign against the closure of remote Aboriginal communities that took off after a single Facebook post from the Bieundurry family, residents of the remote Aboriginal community Wangkatjungka.
Within a week of that first Facebook post, thousands of people across Australia were in the streets. Then came international media coverage to the issue, as well as support from Indigenous groups overseas.
I’ve written about the #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA campaign as an example of the nexus between political activism and Indigenous people’s use of social media in Australia for a chapter of a new book, Negotiating Digital Citizenship: Control, Contest and Culture.
There are some challenges. While social media can provide significant benefits to Indigenous people, we have yet to fully understand the health impacts of constantly being connected and subject to violent and oppressive content. This is something my current research is focused on.
Indigenous Australians have always been early adopters of technology, and information and communication technologies are no exception. I’d expect that to continue as new media platforms continue to emerge. As Jason Glanville notes:
what the longest continuous unbroken thread of human history points to is an extraordinary level of capacity and resilience, innovation and adaptability
There are too many strong Indigenous people on social media to list here. But if you want to tap into the latest in Indigenous Australian news, politics, research, culture and more, these deadly dozen will steer you towards more accounts to following.
Dameyon Bonson is the 2016 Dr. Yunupingu award for Human Rights recipient and founder of Black Rainbow, Australia’s peak suicide prevention group for Indigenous lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. He’s also the managing director of Indigenist and an advocate of Indigenous genius, Indigeneity and wellbeing.
Leesa Watego started Deadly Bloggers in 2009, a directory of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers posting on everything from business to pop culture. She is the director of Iscariot Media, a niche media enterprise focusing on creative, online and educational projects. Leesa is an outstanding educator and deep thinker.
Joe Williams works hard to inspire youth and individuals through motivational speaking workshops, run through his charity The Enemy Within. He is impassioned by the high rates of suicides in Indigenous communities – speaking and writing powerfully about his own experience of surviving a suicide attempt – as well as the continued discrimination Indigenous people face in mainstream media.
Amy McQuire is a journalist with 98.9FM in Brisbane, the first Indigenous radio station in a capital city. Amy has a history of being vocal about the injustices faced by Indigenous people, including talking about hard issues like Indigenous deaths in custody and police brutality.
Jack Latimore is a researcher and journalist with The Guardian Australia, writing on Indigenous affairs, politics, culture, tech, media and journalism. He is involved in the development of several projects aimed at improving the quality of Indigenous representation and participation in the mainstream media.
Euginia Flynn is a blogger who writes from her viewpoint as an Aboriginal, Chinese, Muslim woman living on Kulin Country in Melbourne. Euginia is a thoughtful, poised and strong Indigenous woman.
We have some wonderful academics researching issues that are important to Indigenous Australia. Often referred to as “Blakademics”, many of them are enthusiastic social media users – such as Professor Bronwyn Fredericks, one of Australia’s few Indigenous Pro Vice-Chancellors.
Bronwyn promotes issues of health and wellbeing, race/racism, regional development and more. She is also a fantastic supporter of Indigenous students.
Summer May Finlay
Summer May Finlay is a public health professional, PhD candidate and an avid social media user. She is passionate about Australian politics, Aboriginal issues, health, music, art, films and blogs on a variety of other topics.
Dr Lynore Geia is an impressive advocate for Indigenous Health. She is the founder of Indigenous Health May Day – or #IHMayDay – Tweetfests, which have been successful in gaining national support over three consecutive years and getting Indigenous health trending on Twitter.
Celeste Liddle is the National Indigenous Organiser of the National Tertiary Education Union, freelance opinion writer and social commentator. She blogs at Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist. Celeste is a strong voice on social media and an advocate for Indigenous-controlled media, as well as the value of having more Indigenous commentary in the mainstream media. As Celeste recently wrote:
Social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter… allowed us to connect and organise over vast distances. They also gave us platforms to discuss matters which had long been denied within the mainstream press.
Dr Sandy O’Sullivan is one of our wonderful academic bloggers. She is a great example of the way Indigenous people are making global connections. She is currently in the United States promoting Batchelor Institute’s Centre for Collaborative First Nations Research.
Luke Pearson and IndigenousX
No list of Indigenous Australian excellence on social media would be complete without Luke Pearson – founder of the highly influential Indigenous media organisation IndigenousX. Luke is also currently a senior digital producer for NITV.
@IndigenousX started in 2012 as a rotating Twitter account, hosted by a different Indigenous Australian every week, and has since expanded into other social media. Luke has a great sense of irony, which is often evident in his tweets (like the one above).
That’s just a snapshot of how Indigenous Australians are using social media to connect, debate and advocate to make a difference, as are so many other Indigenous people internationally. As Luke Pearson has said:
digital technologies, and in particular social media, can be a significant tool for connection, empowerment, education, employment, the ongoing struggle for social justice, and Reconciliation. In fact, whatever issue is being addressed (or is not, as the case may be), I believe the digital world can assist.