Social media and songlines: young people, Land Rights and identity

Some people say our mob have been on a form of social media for over 40,000 years, using songlines to connect, share, engage and record news and information across the land. Today, this practice continues through modern technology such as phones, television, video, the internet and more recently, social media.

The rise in the use and popularity of social media, along with its many challenges and opportunities, has been meteoric particularly among Aboriginal communities.

In fact, recent surveys show that Facebook usage among Aboriginal mob is 20 percent higher than the national average and that those living in isolated areas are increasingly accessing social media through tablets and smartphones.

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Marlesha Havea has seen the positive outcomes first hand. As a Project Manager at the NSW Reconciliation Council and Marketing Assistant at Triple J, she also seen how effective social media can be in an Aboriginal health campaign.

“We used various online platforms and the response was surprising. We created a forum on the website for people to ask questions, engage with others from different communities and connect with health professionals. I strongly believe that creating this space for discussion contributed to the success of the campaign,” she said.

“On an individual level, you can follow issues and organisations that are important to you, show your support and help raise awareness by sharing posts, liking pictures and commenting on updates. This is just one small example of how you can use your social media for social good.”

Zoe Betar, a Community Catalyst at the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence says that social media can be a great tool for Aboriginal people to use when they are not on country, to research songs and language, connect professionally and seek support to achieve goals.

It is what inspires her involvement in the Community of Excellence, an online social network of and for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, that connects and empowers to achieve their goals and reach potential with “no ads, no racism and a suite of resources that affect our community.”
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It’s a fact that racism rears its ugly head on-line as in day to day life but its effects can be magnified. Zoe says it is the biggest challenge she has come across online.

“There’s just a lot of it,” she said. “But you have to learn how to overcome it in the same way you would face to face. Know who you are as a person, know that there will always be someone who has your back and rather than retaliate, walk away or don’t respond.

“In essence, it is strengthening your identity offline that can help confront some of the issues online.”

Cyber racism has been gathering attention – close to half of the racial hatred complaints made to the Human Rights Commission in 2012-13 were related to cyber-racism. and is a priority for the national ‘Racism. It Stops With Me’ campaign.

Although social media is often linked to these negative outcomes such as racism and lateral violence just about all social media users agree that it has the potential to deliver positive information such as suicide prevention activities.

Social media and the digital world do, with the right management, have the potential to positively influence social and emotional outcomes, strengthen connection to country and preserve cultural heritage.
Social media increases its reach

In the acclaimed cultural arts project Yijala Yala in Roebourne (WA) young people from the community make films, games, digital comics and online worlds, that explore the community’s culture, history and future and how ancient and modern cultures are critical to living heritage.

One of the project mentors observed that for Aboriginal people in the Western Pilbara, heritage is reliant on intergenerational practice and that children and young people are just as critical to the process as senior people.

That potential of the digital landscape can also be positively explored within the Land Rights movement.

NSWALC Chair Craig Cromelin says that it can be used to get news out about Land Rights in NSW and what it means in today’s context.

“There are lots of other issues, there’s so much going on and young people don’t ‘grow up’ with Land Rights knowledge the way many of us used to.

“On Facebook and Twitter, we can now get photos, links, information out instantly to hundreds of people, information that would have taken days or weeks to distribute. Our CEO spent the week as guest host of IndigenousX (account on Twitter) and our Facebook page reach is growing daily.

“We also know there are many LALCs in the network who are working with their young mob and actively encouraging them to get involved in their land council, to run for election on boards, or who are starting their own youth committees and activities. They are out there in the community but also getting the word out with websites and on social media,” he said.

As Zoe says, “To all the jarjums I would say that social media has the potential to connect them back to culture through research, through having the ability to yarn with our people from across the nation and the world and by achieving real change through campaigns.”
Links and resources 

Organisations and Projects

National Centre of Indigenous Excellence, Community of Excellence –

Indigenous Digital Excellence Homepage –

IndigenousX –

Yijala Yala Project –

What is Cyber Racism? Racism. It Stops With Me. –

Articles and Research

‘Social Media: Following in the Songlines Tradition.’

Croaky Blog: –

Remote Indigenous Australians rely on Facebook to stay in touch, SBS: –

Social media benefits outweigh risks in suicide prevention: new research: –