Good news stories from the age of outrage

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It has becoming increasingly common for commentators and politicians to dismissively refer to our society as presently living in an 'age of outrage'. Such commentaries are generally paired with a wistful harkening to an era where, they assure us, things were better, more peaceful, and where one might enjoy an apolitical existence. They are outraged at our outrage; and assure us it is the rise of social media, millennials, and this damn age of outrage which has ruined everything.

Hakeem al-Araibi is embraced by supporters as Craig Foster, former Australian football captain and commentator, looks on as he arrives at Melbourne Airport. Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty ImagesBut what is actually going on here? Are we really the snowflake generation? And is social media and increasing political engagement among the broader public truly the toxic end of civilisation which some claim? That is going to depend on your definition of civilised.

For a long time in 'Western countries' formal and broadly accessible platforms of communication such as newspapers, radio, and television have been controlled by a very few powerful, privileged, wealthy individuals. Australia has among the most concentrated media ownership in the world, yet while traditional media is generally controlled by very few, it is influential and broadcast to the many.

As technological advances have evolved over time, with each advance in public broadcasting there have come visible and demonstrable changes in the public discourse around politics and activism. This is not unique to a present day context — consider for example, the impact media and uncensored broadcasting had on public responses to the Vietnam War.

This relationship between media, communication sharing, and public engagement with politics is well established. Propaganda spread through media, and the application of media control is a tried and true tactic in politics around the world, with Germany in the 1930s considered a prime example of how political goals and agendas can be assisted through propaganda and control of the media. In a present day context China, Saudi Arabia and North Korea are among the countries who censor their citizens' access to the internet and social media, and discussions around censorship have happened here in Australia too.

Media matters, and always has. As a conduit of information which is relied upon by the vast majority as a source of news, knowledge and understanding, it is predictable that the information, perspectives, and agenda shared via media is often of concern to the political parties in power, and those who would like to be.

But times are changing, and both 'what' and 'who' media is is changing. With the rise of the internet, social media and online publishers, we not only live in an era where we are better able to access information independently, but where we as individuals, as groups, as minorities, are able to access information written both by and about those who have traditionally been oppressed.

 

"The impact this has on society, on politics, on the dynamics of this world in which we live cannot be overstated. It is much harder to dehumanise people when you have heard their voice."

 

Indigenous voices, for example, are no longer limited to being a line that sits within a piece written by and from a non-indigenous perspective; we are now able to write and publish our responses ourselves. This active sharing of knowledge, experiences, and information is educational and impacting. But it also challenges the status quo and balance of power, so it should not come as a surprise that it is so often met with resistance.

While some have called social media problematic, for many, all media has always been problematic. The difference now is that voices which have historically been silenced are beginning to be shared. And perhaps most significantly, these voices are now genuinely being heard. The impact this has on society, on politics, on the dynamics of this world in which we live cannot be overstated. It is much harder to dehumanise people when you have heard their voice.

This week we celebrate the safe return of Hakeem Al-Araibi, a Bahraini refugee who, having been tortured for participating in pro-democracy demonstrations, found asylum here in Australia and was eventually granted permanent residency — only to then face two months locked in a Thai prison after Australian Federal Police alerted Thai authorities to a red notice issued by Bahrain.

But the media interest in his plight, the public awareness and open petitions which increased pressure on both Australian and Thai authorities, were influenced by activists and supporters accessing and utilising new media. The hashtag #savehakeem helped fuel the public interest, which then increased pressure on traditional media to engage with the story. With his safe return, hopefully the next chapter will address how he was placed in that position in the first place, and prevent others from experiencing that risk.

When it comes to conversation, dialogue and understanding, a prime example of the positive use of new media is the work of award winning writer Behrouz Boochani, who is an asylum seeker presently held by the Morrison government on Manus. While there are clear attempts at anti asylum seeker propaganda being spread through traditional media, Behrouz runs a verified Twitter account, and through a text message service published his award winning novel No Friend But The Mountains, which recently won the prestigious Victorian Premier's Literary Award. Attempts by the government and certain media outlets to dehumanise asylum seekers, and fearmonger, are beautifully countered by the humanity and reality which is shared through the voice of people such as Behrouz.

Increasing conversation across new media which highights the humanity and reality of asylum seekers impacts politics, because it impacts the broader population (read: voters) — who, contrary to popular belief, are not cold-hearted. As momentum and understanding grows among the broader public, the government should respond accordingly. They are there to lead and represent our needs and the democratic desires of the people, and that requires listening actively rather than focusing on representing just those with existing power.

This week the Morrison government also suffered a historic defeat in the House of Representatives with the passing of a bill which will allow for the medical evacuation of asylum-seekers from Manus Island and Nauru. That such legislation was needed says a lot about the state of our current politics and their humanity or lack thereof, but with this being the first substantive loss on the floor since 1929 it also says a lot about power within politics. Things are shifting.

When I think of all of the misinformation, the propaganda, and the limited ideology perpetuated historically by those with platforms of power, I am deeply grateful to live in a time of social media. Yes, there are problems, but there are now also opportunities for the intelligence, creativity and truth-telling that challenge the dominant narrative.

There are those who say we live in an era of outrage, but the outrageous and inhumane was always there; it's just that as a society we are finally addressing it. And thankfully, it was clearly demonstrated by the passing of the Medivac Bill, and the safe return of Hakeem, that the voices of Australia, rather than the powerful few, are finally being heard.

 

 

Amy ThunigAmy Thunig is a Kamilaroi woman, PhD candidate, and an Associate Lecturer in the Department of Educational Studies at Macquarie University. Juggling parenting and partnering, Amy's interests and writing centre around family, Indigenous rights, social justice, academia, and education. She is the recipient of the 2018 Margaret Dooley Fellowship for Emerging Indigenous Writers.

Main image: Hakeem al-Araibi is embraced by supporters as Craig Foster, former Australian football captain and commentator, looks on as he arrives at Melbourne Airport. Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Topic tags: Amy Thunig, Medivac bill, Hakeem Al-Araibi, activism, social media, Behrouz Boochani, Manus Island

 

 

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Did Morrison suffer a defeat or could it be that Shorten and co have now made this election a two horse contest. The refugees will come to Australia and each plane trip will be around $140,000 from Manus to Christmas Island. So what has the Opposition gained? Nothing really other than to show that it believes people will be sucked in by headlines
PHILLIP ROWAN | 15 February 2019


I heartily applaud Amy Thunig’s positive message. The internet is a force for good as well as bad. It is helping many of us mobilise an increasingly effective #DefendAssange campaign, as seen by last night’s widely broadcast forum in Sydney Politics in the Pub. Also glad that Amy did not include Russia in her list of censoring countries. Russia has a free internet.
Tony Kevin | 15 February 2019


Thank you Amy. Reading this has given me a welcome new perspective on my preoccupation with online communication, which I have struggled with, seeing it as a time-waster, keeping me from Real Life. Hampered by age & illness from continuing my previous activism on the streets through the decades, you're naming this new avenue, where like minds can tease out the nuances of strategies for challenging racism, sexism, heterosexism. Loving the immediacy of it all. As we prepare ourselves for what may well be the struggle of all time, adapting our behaviour so that Earth might be able to continue to provide us with a magnificent livable habitat, lightning fast global connection may well be the strategy to bring about simultaneous actions on the myopic greedy sods who persist in thinking that accumulated wealth is digestible, breathable, drinkable. A couple of months ago I sat in a room in the Newcastle Library, with 100 or so others, listening to Behrouz talk about his book. He was on his trusty phone, speaking in Farsi to Omid, who then translated for us. A truly extraordinary experience. For me, hope cannot die, while humans can overcome such barriers. Wish you well.
Bev Henwood | 15 February 2019


A snappy little article, Ami, that also brings to the fore the power that sport exercises over Australian national idenity and in respect of which it overrides concerns about refugees and asylum-seekers. I note also that the PM and Foreign Minister have fallen over themselves to fete this bemused young man as a means of drawing the veil over his incarceration at being dobbed in by the Australian Federal Police in the first place.
Dr Michael FURTADO | 17 February 2019


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