Racism towards First Nations people on January 26

By Matthew Smith

On 26 January (Australia Day, also referred to as Survival Day and Invasion Day), four Online Hate Prevention Institute Analysts documented racism against First Nations Australians and others, as well as disinformation about the Voice to Parliament Referendum which was held in October 2023.

We investigated five social media platforms: X / Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and LinkedIn. Each Analyst spent five hours (one hour per social media platform) capturing racist and problematic content that was posted around 26 January. We found 172 items which met our inclusion criteria.

This data represents content related to January 26 across a number of categories/types of hate. Social media posts that were racist against First Nations people accounted for 71% of the data collected. Racism against non-First Nations people made up 8% of the social media posts, 7% of the posts featured other types of hate, 6% included disinformation about the referendum, 5% provided examples of violent extremism, 2% were antisemitic, 0.5% were Islamophobic, and 0.5% of the data captured targeted the LGBTIQ+ community.

In this briefing, we share the types of racism found against First Nations people as well as disinformation about the referendum.

There are several sub-categories of racism against First Nations people. The sub-categories, along with the percentage of overall racism against First Nations people in our collected data are:

  • Stereotypes of First Nations people being stupid, primitive, or similar (37%)
  • Denying claims of people being legitimate First Nations people (19%)
  • Stereotypes of First Nations people being lazy, won’t work, live on welfare, or similar (17%)
  • Use of racial slurs (15%)
  • Claims First Nations people get unfair advantage, e.g. too much government funding (12%)

We also share some examples of extremist content we found on January 26.

Stereotypes of First Nations people being stupid, primitive, or similar

Example 1, Facebook

This post from Facebook argues that 26 January should remain the date for Australia Day. The text of the post attempts to follow a narrative around the idea of national unity. However, it targets First Nations people by accusing them of posing a challenge to that. The image shared here promotes stereotypes of First Nations people of being primitive, and implies that Indigenous people should be thankful for British colonisation.

Example 2, LinkedIn

This example from LinkedIn is a comment made on a First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria post which features a link to an op-ed about “toxic political posturing” around January 26.

The comment promotes the stereotype of First Nations people as primitive by accusing First Nations people of not achieving anything in 60,000 years. 

Example 3, TikTok

This comment on a TikTok video argues that British colonisation was beneficial for First Nations people. The TikTok user alleges that British settlement in Australia ended war and bloodshed among tribes. The author of this comment also implies that First Nations people should be thankful (“we united you guys and your [sic] very welcome”).

Denying claims of people (or groups) being legitimate First Nations people

This sub-category encapsulated social media content which called into question whether someone’s status as a First Nations person, such as accusations that someone could not be Indigenous because of the colour of their skin.

Example 4, Facebook

The following example shows comments that were made on a video posted on Facebook by Sky News Australia. The video features an interview with Indigenous elder Marcus Stewart.

Facebook users commented questioning both Stewart’s status as a First Nations person as well as his status as an elder.

Example 5, Instagram

These comments made on an Instagram post also show social media users denying that a First Nations woman is Indigenous. The second comment shown here also uses the racial slur and derogatory term “half-caste”, which was used to classify Indigenous people who also had European descent. The author of the second comment also uses the race-based term “pure-blood”.

Stereotypes of First Nations people being lazy, won’t work, live on welfare, or similar

Example 5, Facebook

On Facebook, a photograph of the Sydney Opera House being lit up with portraits celebrating Indigenous history was shared. In the screenshot here, two comments are shown. The first commenter asks, “Where’s the [Australian] flag”, and makes a remark about “country hating dividers”, alluding to some of the discourse frequently seen around the Voice referendum.

The second comment then promotes stereotypes of First Nations people being lazy, not working and living on welfare with their response of “they love our benefits and handouts though from the hard working Aussies”.

Example 7, Instagram

Another example of this sub-category was found on Instagram. A comment was made in which the author uses a racial slur and accuses First Nations people of “taking [their] hard earned tax dollar”. They also perpetuate the negative stereotype of Indigenous people as alcoholics. This Instagram user then incites violence with their comment “should’ve wiped em out completely”.

Use of racial slurs

Example 8, TikTok

This example is a comment that was made on a TikTok video which did not support the celebration of Australia Day. While the author uses racial slurs, they also distort history and attempt to deny First Nations people’s connection to the land.

Example 9, X / Twitter

This example both uses racial slurs and promotes the stereotype that First Nations people are lazy, won’t work, live on welfare or similar. The author uses a banana emoji, which can be understood to be a way of calling Indigenous people monkeys or apes.

Claims First Nations people get unfair advantage (e.g. too much government funding) 

Example 10, Facebook

The example shown here is of a comment which was made on the Facebook post featured in Example 1 of this briefing. This post claims that First Nations people have had many benefits through government funding and initiatives.

Referendum Disinformation

On 14 October 2023, Australians voted on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament at a referendum. The Voice failed at the referendum. In this context, we anticipated that we would see discourse about the referendum around Australia Day. 

Most of the content we found about the referendum came from the “No” side.

Example 11, TikTok

This TikTok video demonstrates an example of presumably a “No” voter who expressed their relief that the referendum failed. In the video there is an Australian flag in the background with a text overlay that claims Australia dodged a bullet because the referendum did not pass. This feeds into the misinformed belief that had the “Yes” vote succeeded, that it would have led to further harm down the line, either through increased taxes or through a single privileged group who benefitted from the Voice being created in society.

Example 12, X / Twitter

Following on from the example shown above, this Tweet explicitly outlines such fears. The author here also refers to dodging a bullet, and implies that had Australia said “Yes” that the country would have been divided on grounds of race and that “Marxist identity politics” would have taken over. The image posted here is of a First Nations girl standing side-by-side with a non-Indigenous girl, each of them waving an Australian flag.

The previous example from TikTok expresses a similar message, but more covertly. Whereas this Tweet repeats dog whistles and promotes the misinformed idea that had the Voice been implemented then First Nations people would have had a superior role in society and that the country would have been divided.

White Supremacist content

Example 13, X / Twitter

This post on X / Twitter comes from an Australian White Supremacist account. This written in the biography of their profile:

Their post of 26 January features an image of Captain Cook with the caption “Australia for the white man” and a video of two masked people burning the Aboriginal flag. They also use the homophobic slur “fggts [sic]” to describe First Nations people.

Example 14, Twitter

This example from X / Twitter comes from an Australian neo-Nazi account.

Example 15, X / Twitter

This Australia Day post shares images which glorify the White Australia Policy.