Report uncovers complexity of cyber safety in remote communities

Monday 21 November 2016

A girl is using a mobile phone in one hand

These interim findings will be followed by a final report, due to be released mid-2017

In summary

  • Swinburne and Telstra conduct research into remote Indigenous use of internet services
  • Report finds many Indigenous Australians share mobile devices and use prepaid mobile plans
  • Issues associated with their internet use include privacy and financial security

New research from Swinburne University of Technology has highlighted the unique nature of cyber safety issues facing Aboriginal communities in remote Australia.

The interim ‘Cyber Safety in Remote Aboriginal Communities and Towns’ report, commissioned by Telstra, identifies the types and causal factors of cyber safety issues facing Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.

Researchers found four main online practices were leading to complex cyber safety issues in the communities they visited. These included:

  • A high level of mobile device sharing
  • Internet access being predominantly mobile-only
  • Prepaid mobile broadband as the preferred internet product
  • Facebook and AirG/Divas Chat dominates social media and internet use.

Deputy-Director of the Swinburne Institute of Social Research, Associate Professor Ellie Rennie, says the research found cyber safety issues are contributing to digital exclusion.

“Aboriginal communities across the Northern Territory area are quickly adopting new digital technologies, but middle-aged and older community members are concerned about the consequences,” Associate Professor Rennie says.

“While they are increasingly aware of the benefits of connectivity, including for emergencies, services and shopping, people are choosing not to use particular online services such as banking, because of the sharing of devices and passwords.

“In other instances, Elders are hesitant to have mobile services in their communities at all. If not addressed, cyber safety concerns may be holding some Aboriginal communities back from realising the full potential of the online world.”

The unique internet practices of Aboriginal people in remote communities and towns have resulted in a number of issues arising. These include: 

  • Inappropriate content and comments: This was the most frequently reported cyber safety issue and includes inappropriate images and abusive or offensive comments and messages.
  • Privacy issues: The sharing of devices was found to lead to privacy issues if social media accounts were not password-protected. Many of the participants interviewed did not know how to set passcodes or passwords to prevent others from using their social media accounts.
  • Financial security and management: Issues such as identifying scams and fraud, and managing credit finances are a significant issue for Aboriginals in remote areas. ‘Credit bullying’ occurs when people (usually family members) transfer credit from others prepaid accounts. 

“People sometimes overstep cultural protocols on social media platforms such as Facebook and AirG, which can exacerbate inter-family tensions, resulting in violence and in some instances, ostracism of individuals,” Associate Professor Rennie says.

“Elders are therefore tempted to reject internet services altogether.”

The research will play an important role in informing the development of  strategies to ensure remote Aboriginal communities have access to straightforward information about the use of digital devices and social media, so that they can better manage cyber safety issues. 

Today’s release of interim findings will be followed by a final report, due to be released mid-2017. 

About the study

As part of Telstra’s 2015-2018 Reconciliation Action Plan, Telstra commissioned the first comprehensive Australian study on the prevalence, impacts and evaluation of the most effective strategies to tackle cyber safety in remote and regional Aboriginal communities.

Research has been undertaken by the Swinburne Institute for Social Research in conjunction with Aboriginal people living in remote communities and towns in the Northern Territory.

View the entire interim report.