As National Reconciliation Week (#NRW2016) circulates the Twitter sphere opening the conversation on black Australia’s history and culture, the social networking service has announced their commitment to support Indigenous Australian communities and empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by facilitating their voices and sharing their stories to the wider public.
Twitter is responsible for many of our current political debates and discussions. Movements such as #BlackLivesMatter and #RefugeesWelcome come direct from the general public, where the stories, statements and opinions of minorities are able to get access to large audiences, despite not being afforded opportunities through the mainstream avenues like national media. While breakfast television might suggest that the public aren’t behind 're-writing our history books', Twitter tells a completely different story.
Twitter has stated that their first step toward reconciliation is recognition. Twitter applies ‘verification’ to user’s accounts to establish authenticity of identities of key individuals and brands. People like Senator Scott Ludlam, Carrie Bickmore and even Shannon Noll, receive a little blue badge next to their name to let users know that these people are ‘doing Twitter right’ and influential in some areas of Twitter’s most popular topics such as, government, politics, religion, journalism, media, fashion, community development, sports and business.
To ensure that verification isn’t distributed to dominating white celebrities in our country, Twitter has recently verified 50+ significant Indigenous users in the arts, politics and academia in Australia.
Tony Broderick, Head of Partnerships at Twitter Australia has worked closely with key Indigenous organisations, like IndigenousX, to map out further steps for how the social media platform can better service and support the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people online.
“Twitter has always been a powerful platform for social change and this is often most impactful for voices which are not heard often in mainstream media,” Broderick told NITV. “With this in mind the team at Twitter Australia are keen to explore what more we can do for Indigenous Australian communities.”
While the Twitter Reconciliation Action Plan rolls out in a timely fashion, as both, Reconciliation Week and the Federal Election are key events on the nation’s calendar, further incentives are still to come.
“In the short term we're keen to explore how we can increase awareness around Indigenous Australian issues during the current Federal Election campaign and we're working on some ideas now on how best to achieve this,” says Broderick.
“However before making any long-term decisions we want to first engage with key Indigenous Australian stakeholders and organisations and hear the areas that are of most concern to them. We intend this to be a long-term commitment and to do this effectively this we want to work in collaboration with the community.”
This digital incentive has impressed many key Indigenous influencers who are use social platforms to help promote Indigenous rights and advocate social change, and see the promise in Twitter’s part in #NRW2016.
Founder of IndigenousX, Luke Pearson says that organisation’s achievements wouldn’t have been possible without Twitter, and the Reconciliation Action Plan will further promote other like-minded Indigenous controlled business ventures.
“IndigenousX was born on Twitter, and has grown into a significant platform for sharing stories and amplifying Indigenous voices,” Pearson says. “We’ve now got our own website, have helped to raise over $300,000 for various projects in partnership with StartSomeGood, our hosts are profiled weekly at the Guardian Australia, and I can say without doubt that none of that would have been possible without Twitter so it is really exciting to hear them say that are looking at becoming more directly involved in raising the profile of Indigenous issues.”
Social media is responsible for the widespread attention that artist and writer, Karla McGrady petitioned for, for the disappearance and death of three Bowraville children. And McGrady is looking forward to bridging the gap between Aboriginal stories and mainstream media, which Twitter can facilitate.
“Social media has played a big part in getting much needed media attention to the story about the Bowraville Murders, it has allowed us as family members to speak directly to the public and continue to share important information and stories consistently over an extended period of my time,” she told NITV.
“We have had great support from Indigenous media outlets over the years, in more recent years we have taken advantage of social media sites to keep the story of our Bowraville kids on the agenda and put pressure on government. Twitter has played an important role in connecting with mainstream Australian news outlets, it has also made it possible to connect with an international audience and draw a spotlight on issues effecting our people here that would otherwise be ignored.”
From a governance perspective, co-chair of National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, Rod Little has stated, “Twitter improves many things for National Congress. It’s great for informing your networks positively about your activities and its relation to our mobs interest and excellent for stimulating brief reactions and support on matters that impact on our people.”
Roxanne Moore, Indigenous Rights Campaigner for Amnesty International created the Community is Everything campaign, which aims to the end the overrepresentation of Indigenous kids in the justice system.
"Using Twitter is an important way that our mob can have a voice; express to each other and to the world how we are feeling about current issues,” Moore told NITV.
“At Amnesty International, we use Twitter to highlight the important work that Indigenous people are doing to create change and to celebrate the achievements of Indigenous people. People can take action on Twitter no matter where they are in Australia."
Professor Megan Davis, a member of the Referendum council recognises Twitter's ability to spread the word on issues that are often overlooked by mainstream media and gives an immediate avenue for the dissemination of the voices and opinions of grassroots indigenous peoples that often run counter to stories run in newspapers.
"Twitter has been one of the primary ways in which Aboriginal people have been able to mobilise on very important legal issues such as SOS Black Australia's effective campaigning on the closure of WA remote communities," she told NITV. "Importantly, Twitter has been a critical tool in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people demanding that constitutional recognition be more than minimalist or symbolic and that it be substantive reform. In addition it has enabled the renewed emphasis on a treaty or agreement or other constructive arrangements."
Associate Professor Bronwyn Carlson is a lecturer of humanities and arts, with a focus on the politics of Indigenous identity and Indigenous peoples' social media use at The University of Wollongong is pleased by the news of Twitter initiative as it encourages other media platforms to notice the large number of Indigenous people using these tools to have their voices heard.
"Indigenous people are avid social media users and the huge number of followers on accounts such as, IndigenousX has demonstrated that social media is providing a platform where collective voices can have a real impact," she says.
"Social media, for many Indigenous people is an intrinsic part of our daily routine. Tweeting for example, is like accessing a global amphitheatre where indigenous voices are amplified which is powerful."
As our feeds dominate the #NRW2016 hashtag, we're looking forward to seeing more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Twitterati influencing the public from an Indigenous perspective.