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RMIT University releases report on cyber safety in remote Aboriginal communities

An announcement made by the RMIT University highlighted a report it released explaining more fully the barriers to digital inclusion for remote Indigenous Australians. Although the cyber safety measures implemented by social media platforms, financial institutions and service providers are effective for many Australians, people in remote Indigenous communities face unique cyber security challenges.

Cyber safety awareness is more critical nowadays because majority of a person’s daily life is performed online. Social networks allow people to stay in touch. Managing finances are transacted through online banking. Personal details are stored and provided online.

Users normally implement cyber safety measures by protecting themselves and the people close to them from a range of risks that include cyberbullying, identity theft, harassment and scams.

Although the existing tools that are already in place for managing online safety and privacy are considered effective for many Australians, the protection provided by social media platforms, financial institutions and service providers are not enough for people in remote Indigenous communities. They face some distinctive cyber security challenges.

A new report from RMIT has identified specific differences in the use of personal technology that create challenges for remote Aboriginal individuals and communities.

One of the issues is the sharing of devices among individuals, according to report co-author and RMIT Associate Professor Ellie Rennie, which may lead to a potentially big privacy issue for users.

Ms Rennie added, “Social obligations can influence how people use devices and this can lead to problems with privacy.”

Indigenous people have avoided using services such as online banking due to damaging experiences like identity violations and unauthorised access to financial accounts.

Moreover, users incur increase in costs because they had to replace lost, borrowed or damaged devices. Add to that is their problems with data credit theft.

Additionally, the users end up being misrepresented as members of gangs or participants in riots since some of the videos shared online lacked explanation or appropriate context.

“We were told that social media can escalate existing conflict, or leave some people feeling isolated,” Ms Rennie said.

Appointing “trusted flaggers” in social media or people who can help moderate problematic content was recommended in the report. Furthermore, Elders and organisations tasked to do face-to-face mediation should receive more support.

The research done by RMIT involved workshops, interviews and observation in four communities in two regions. A copy of the comprehensive report can be downloaded here.

In doing the project, the researchers learned that cyber safety is an issue that is challenging for people in remote communities to talk about. RMIT had to work with four Aboriginal media organisations to describe their experiences in order to gather information.

 “We are seeing some terrific radio documentary content arising out of the project, produced by the Aboriginal media organisations,” said Mr Mark Sulikowski, Senior Advisor, Indigenous Digital Capability at Telstra.

He added, “As this is released over the coming months, we hope it will inspire discussion about staying safe online in the remote regions where it was made.”

Telstra funded the research as a commitment in their Reconciliation Action Plan 2015-18 in order to better support digital inclusion for remote Indigenous Australians.

The research was conducted by RMIT Associate Professor Ellie Rennie, Dr Tyson Yunkaporta from Monash University and PhD candidate Indigo Holcombe-James from RMIT’s Digital Ethnography Research Centre.

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