Land Rights News Central Australia: Land Rights News (April 2012)

Published: April, 2012

Divas Chat causing social chaos

Improper use of mobile phone technology and social networks is hitting some Aboriginal communities hard

Social networking is causing social chaos in some Indigenous communities and is being used for ‘sexting’, cyber-bullying and fanning bitter family feuds.

Yuendumu in particular has been badly hit by the use of social media , inflaming tensions that have torn the community apart during the last two years.

Resident Francis Kelly  said he wished social networking could be banned from the community.

“It was really bad at Yuendumu,” he said.

“People not using it sensibly.  We got to cut it out.

“It’s creating more problems for families and increasing the violence.

“We took it to the police station and they forgot about it for a couple of months and it stopped. Then it all came back.

‘Old people don’t know how to use it, but they (younger people) are tricking old people with it. 

“And you can get an SMS but with no name or using somebody else’s name and an unknown number.”

Mt Nancy town camp resident  Barb Shaw agreed that the ability to be anonymous was one of the biggest problems of social networking. Her 13 year old daughter uses Facebook on a computer at home rather than mobile communications.

“They are creating fake profiles and saying false things about people and they’re only little kids,” Shaw said. 

“People are guessing who’s who. It’s creating arguments.

“The language is really bad and I feel really sad for the kids.”

Shaw said she knew of kids younger than her daughter  using Telstra-backed  Divas Chat,  currently the most popular network, available for a small charge to people with prepaid mobiles.

Australian Federal Police (AFP) Youth Adviser Patrick Kelly keeps a close watch on tech trends that sweep Australia.

“With Indigenous communities, it is anything that they can get on mobile phones and anything that is free like Divas Chat,” he said.

 “They (Divas Chat) don’t charge for data usage so you pay a little fee to download it and that’s basically it.”

While the network requires you to confirm you are over the age of 18 twice before you can enter the chat room,  Divas Chat is awash with kids and adults who have concealed their identities and are posting messages from fake profiles.

AFP Team Leader James Braithwaite said Diva Chat was intended for a social networking and dating site for adults.

“Because it’s had such a high take-up it’s being used by much younger people. It’s not the site so much as that it’s available on the Telstra phones and it’s not measured,” he said.

“But we wouldn’t like to see kids move away from the internet. We need to keep them engaged and involved in more forums suitable for their age groups.”

Braithwaite said the benefits of the internet far outweighed the negatives especially when there were issues of literacy and numeracy. 

“The benefits of having kids online are huge and many of these kids are using English as a second or third language so the internet is important to advance literacy,” he said.

“There is also lot of evidence about the benefits of the internet and mental health if you are ostracised through location or sexual orientation

“Seventy five per cent of mental health issues come forward first in people under the age of 25. We don’t want to discourage them using social media.”

In a macabre twist to networking in cyberspace, the practice of using dead people’s names has become popular where people want to intimidate others anonymously.

Eileen Deemal-Hall from the NT Department of Justice said there were differences between communities in the way they used social media.

“You get some communities who only use Divas but others use which has links to Facebook and Twitter and they can figure out how to download unclassified movies and bluetooth it between them and then burn to a SD card,” she said.

“They then use special connectors from the phone to the TV.”

Deemal-Hall  said abuses were “notoriously hard to police on the ground”.

“There are five separate pieces of legislation that cover this sort of activity,  and practices like sexting and blue movies or films of fights on a community that are then bluetoothed between phones land in a grey area because they cross jurisdictions,” she said.

But there is some evidence the situation  can be alleviated by education of both police and community.

Francis Kelly said reporting it to the police in Yuendumu significantly stopped the abuse for a time, apparently when a particular sergeant ran the police station there and coordinated different reporting days for the feuding families.

“We took it to the police station and they forgot about it for a couple of months and it stopped,” he said. “Then it all came back.”

Deemal-Hall  said community involvement had led to effective strategies, especially in the Top End.

“In some places the community has decided to limit the number of phones sold to families, and in some instances where a kid has used an adult’s phone for cyber bullying then they say we want that person charged,” she said.

She said that when dead people’s names were used, the department had worked with communities to identify which names should never be used and then liaised with Divas Chat to delete the account.

The AFP has also been working hard with the NT Government to try and educate young people, conducting hundreds of sessions with school children about protecting themselves online. 

The NT Department of Justice has teamed up with Skinnyfish Music in Darwin to produce a three minute movie about issues in cyberspace and some 30 second slots which can be transmitted via Bluetooth as part of its campaign.