The internet is a strange beast. It carries both benefits and risks, and Australia’s First Nations people know its paradoxical nature better than most.
As we celebrate National Reconciliation Week ahead of the forthcoming Voice referendum, it’s worth reflecting on ways we can accentuate the positives.
Asked to identify the internet as an animal, one 17-year-old First Nations girl surveyed for eSafety’s latest research chose a composite being from Greek mythology: not the Trojan horse but the chimera.
“… because it’s kind of strange and scary at times,” she said, “especially if you don’t know what you’re doing – but it’s also pretty cool and beautiful.”
It is in order to protect unique voices and perspectives just like this that eSafety launched a package of resources in March, created in consultation with First Nations organisations to help individuals and communities stay safe online.
We also launched our new research with a title inspired by that evocative description, Cool, beautiful, strange and scary: the online experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their parents and caregivers.
Our research results show how important it is to address the specific challenges First Nations people face online, so they can access all the benefits the internet has to offer while avoiding the risks.
Let’s start with the benefits: young First Nations people are embracing the internet and technology in ways that are incredibly rich in terms of culture and information.
They’re sharing original music, video, stories and blogs at much higher rates than average, and using the internet to find information about emotional and physical health.
They’re more engaged in current affairs and reading news online, and they're more in touch with their parents and Elders when it comes to having open conversations about their online lives.
What is shocking is our research also shows Indigenous youth experience online hate at a rate three times greater than the national average.
We already knew First Nations people of all ages were far more likely to experience hate speech online. Recent examples in the media industry and sport are just the tip of the iceberg.
We recorded a small but noticeable rise in complaints to eSafety in the first three months of 2023 and it’s likely this will intensify as we approach the Voice referendum date.
We also saw upticks in reports last year during the @AFL Indigenous Round.
First Nations children and teenagers face a higher rate of exposure to other harmful content as well, and these experiences can cause real-life impacts, triggering feelings like sadness, anger and isolation.
That’s why it’s so important First Nations people of all ages know support is available and there are things they can do to stay safe online.
To help us spread that message in a culturally safe way, eSafety commissioned some fantastic work from First Nations artist Amy Allerton, which you can see featured throughout our new content.
Amy’s work speaks to online safety issues through a series of stories representing the different groups affected by online harms. At its centre is an oval-shaped design that represents the eSafety team.
“I immediately just had this vision of a shield … a shield for all Australians no matter where they are, no matter their age or demographic,” Amy says.
“And being that first line of defence, I guess, to make sure that people have safe experiences online.”
As eSafety Commissioner, it’s a great honour to see our work represented in this way because, when it comes to online harms, we want everyone to know they are not alone.
When people see things going wrong online, whether it's targeting them or their friends, we urge them to report it to the platform where it appeared. And if that doesn’t work, report it to us at eSafety.gov.au/report.
We can act to remove harmful content, and the information and resources on our website can help people avoid encountering it in the first place.
And we continue to work with industry through Safety by Design to reduce opportunities for such content to spread.
One of the heartening things our research shows is how resilient young First Nations people already are online.
They’re taking positive, proactive steps such as blocking or deleting, reaching out to friends, families, schools or police, and changing privacy settings.
We know how damaging negative online experiences can be. They impact mental health, they impact grades and schooling, and they can impact reputation in the community.
On the flipside, we also know the internet can be a fantastic asset, a vital, vibrant medium for cultural expression and connection, and a source of important information.
It’s a strange beast indeed.
Together, let’s use the eSafety shield to preserve these good things – the cool and the beautiful – while keeping the negatives at bay.
This is an edited version of a piece that first appeared in the National Indigenous Times