I was asked how indigenous teenagers engage with social media, and I found this question confusing. Why would indigenous teenagers use social media differently to anyone else? My friend group of predominantly Maori teenagers use social media to keep up with current events, to communicate with friends and to keep others up to date with their lives. What I can conclude from this is that indigenous teenagers engage with social media just like everyone else does. So why was this question posed to me in such a way that suggests we would engage with social media in a different way?
Maybe it’s because there is an expectation to be political on Instagram. I’m often asked why I’m not more political on my Instagram, and I’ve realised that this is just not the way I have chosen to engage with my Instagram. I do interact with accounts that are political, but I personally do not post politically on my page – I much prefer being political in a real world context by having powerful face to face conversations.
I also find that performing my poetry gives me the greatest sense of personal political activism because the nature of a lot of my poetry is about human rights, Maori rights, Women’s rights etc etc. I’m not political on my Instagram because I want it to be a funny, safe space where things don’t need to get heated or political, and that’s absolutely okay! I shouldn’t be expected to be vocal about everything at all times, and on all platforms, and neither should you. I feel as though my voice should be reserved for times when there is actually a need for it, otherwise I am more than happy to just observe and learn new things from other people.
This leads me to the expectation that a lot of people have that all indigenous teens must interact with social media in a political way. It’s so powerful when an indigenous teenager can deal with heavy topics that concern them deeply like oppression and colonization online, but expecting every teenager to be a keyboard warrior is like expecting every person who loves animals to be vegan. It’s simply not a fair expectation. The most beautiful thing about social media is that it gives a voice to those that are otherwise voiceless – like indigenous teenagers – however, that does not mean that every indigenous teenager must feel pressured to use this voice at all times. I have a massive amount of respect for those teenagers that feel empowered to speak and express themselves, and I think it should be encouraged, but I also think that if an individual does not feel the need to be vocal, they should not be frowned upon.
It is important to note that in being vocal, backlash should always be expected. The most frightening thing about social media is that anyone can interact with anyone, therefore, people who disagree on certain issues can completely tear other people down and this may be the reason that some indigenous teens do not feel like they have the power of self expression.
Being vocal on Instagram is is not the only way a person can be an activist and I think expecting all indigenous teenagers to behave differently online in itself is marginalising and stereotyping them. I understand that social media is a platform for self expression, therefore it is the perfect place to be an activist and to share your beliefs, but not every indigenous person is going to want to do that, and not every indigenous person has to do that.
I am not in any way saying that I am not an activist because I most definitely would say I am, I am just saying that I have a different approach to my activism and that is completely fine. I do not feel as though my voice is any less significant or any more significant than anyone else’s just because I’m not a keyboard warrior on Instagram, in fact, I feel the opposite – I feel as though I am empowered to speak up when and if the time arises.
To reiterate my answer to the initial question, in my personal experience, I have seen that indigenous teenagers engage with social media just like everybody else. Some are activists, some are meme makers, some are aesthetically pleasing and some are just there to observe. Everybody has something to say and everybody will chose when and where to say it, whether or not that is on Instagram, it is completely up to them how they choose to utilise their voice.