A study was published at the end of last year in the form of a book chapter, which examines Aboriginal people’s use and representation of themselves on social media, specifically Facebook.
In the study, Carlson (2013) highlights the importance of social media as a tool that individuals can use to identify with groups. She states that; “Facebook is becoming a popular vehicle amongst Aboriginal people, to build, display, and perform Aboriginal identities.” Furthermore, Indigenous Australians use social media not only to exemplify their Indigenous identity as a way of connecting with other Aboriginals online, but also as a way of being accepted as an Aboriginal online.
Carson conducted her study by completing a content analysis of open Facebook pages, popular with Aboriginal users. She navigated her way through pages, analyzing the types of interactions that exist.
They “embody rather than disembody their identity and cultural engagements when interacting online on social media sites.”
Interestingly, unlike other social media users who revel in the anonymity of the web, creating virtual personas, Aboriginal users tend to promote what they believe to be their true identity (it is still somewhat sensationalized). In many ways, their online interactions mirror the offline regulations and expectations of being Aboriginal.
In Australia, Aboriginal identity is a complicated affair. A three-part assessment must be completed and passed before anyone can be considered Aboriginal and receive a Confirmation of Aboriginality certificate. In order to be identified as Aboriginal, one must:
1) Is a member of the Aboriginal Race of Australia
2) Identifies as an Aboriginal person, and
3) Is accepted by the Aboriginal community as an Aboriginal person.
The first two clauses of the assessment are easy to accomplish, it is part three that has caused many issues, and prompts the sense of not only ‘being Aboriginal’, but ‘doing Aboriginal’ both online and offline. However, being considered Aboriginal by the community has become an even murkier clause as Aboriginals now have two distinct communities, online and offline. Carlson continues to look at the impact this has on social media users who might be considered Aboriginal online, but not offline, or vice versa. Unfortunately no answers currently exist for these users who, despite having traced their lineage and identifying as Aboriginals, cannot be awarded a ‘Confirmation of Aboriginality’.
The study continues on to look at individual experiences of identifying as Aboriginal; obtaining confirmation, the relationship that they have online with other Aboriginals, and what they see “community” defined as.
NOTE: Carlson notes that Aboriginal people’s engagement online cannot be generalized into her findings as people are diverse and have different opinions. She highlights that her study is just a snapshot of one type of social media user.