The use of social media and digital technologies has grown rapidly in Australia and around the world, including among Indigenous young people who face social disadvantage. Given the potential to use social media for communication, providing information and as part of creating and responding to social change, this paper explores published literature to understand how Indigenous Australian youth use digital technologies and social media, and its positive and negative impacts.
Online literature searches were conducted in three databases: PubMed, Google Scholar and Informit in August 2014; with further searches of additional relevant databases (Engineering Village; Communication & mass media complete; Computers & applied sciences complete; Web of Science) undertaken in May 2015. In addition, relevant literature was gathered using citation snowballing so that additional peer-reviewed and grey literature was included. Articles were deemed relevant if they discussed social media and/or digital technologies and Indigenous Australians. After reading and reviewing all relevant articles, a thematic analysis was used to identify overall themes and identify specific examples.
A total of 22 papers were included in the review. Several major themes were identified about how and why Indigenous young people use social media: identity, power and control, cultural compatibility and community and family connections. Examples of marketing for health and health promotion approaches that utilize social media and digital technologies were identified. Negative uses of social media such as cyber bullying, cyber racism and the exchange of sexually explicit content between minors are common with limited approaches to dealing with this at the community level.
Strong cultural identity and community and family connections, which can be enhanced through social media, are linked to improved educational and health outcomes. The confidence that Indigenous young people demonstrate when approaching the use of social media invites its further use, including in arenas where this group may not usually participate, such as in research.
Future research could examine ways to minimise the misuse of social media while maximising its positive potential in the lives of Indigenous young people. Future research should also focus on the positive application of social media and showing evidence in health promotion interventions in order to reduce health inequities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous young people.