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Australia Day 2016 - Cuteness and Controversy Abound on Social Media


Here in England, we don't really do patriotism like the colonials, if anything we're a little embarrassed by it. Flying a Union Jack outside your house is generally thought to be pretty weird, but flying an English flag only serves to make people wonder if you're a member of the EDL. As such, St. George's Day, arguably the nearest thing we have to an 'England Day', tends to be a pretty understated affair.

America and Australia aren't quite so coy. Independence Day routinely transforms the US into a blinding storm of fireworks and Australia Day isn't far behind it, as each year on January 26th the streets of every major city flood with revelers. As with many other big national celebrations, the big social media platforms have started doing what they can to get in on the action.

This year, Twitter and Facebook butted heads in an attempt to out-adorable each other, for some reason. The former unveiled a new, specially designed emoji for the day - a koala wearing sunglasses. Some have suggested that it's wearing sunglasses to mask a severe hangover. The emoji automatically appeared on every post bearing the #AustraliaDay hashtag, all of which were also being collected together an exhibited in a digital display at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.


Facebook, meanwhile, selected a parakeet as the animal most fit to represent the day, releasing a whole new series of stickers featuring said parakeet doing Australian things. The things in question ranged from quintessential Aussie mainstays like cricket, AFL and vegemite to just about every Aussie colloquialism that doesn't involve any swearing (although they covered that as well with the standard 'random bunch of symbols' stand-in). The thing is though, while Facebook and Twitter were busying themselves with cute animal imagery, something far more divisive was happening over at Google.

As you might expect, Google changed their homepage artwork to recognise the day, but instead of having their name inscribed in the back of a cartoon crocodile or something, it was a piece of artwork by 16-year-old Ineka Voigt, depicting an Aboriginal mother lamenting the abduction of her child. This was a reference to the thousands upon thousands of Aboriginal children who have been ripped away from their families since the colonial era, commonly referred to as the 'stolen generation'. Voigt herself said that she hoped the image would help spread a message of reconciliation, and that if she could go back in time she would reunite the mother with her child. She characterised it as her way of saying sorry.

While it might seem like an unusual time to reference one of the darkest aspects of Australian history (still very much a controversial subject), it's more timely than you might think. January 26th was, in fact, the day the first convict ships started arriving at Port Jackson in 1788. Shortly after their arrival, the British became mired in a fierce, brutal conflict with the natives which saw scores of them either captured or killed, and as more and more British convicts and colonists arrived and settled in Australia, the natives were marginalised, pushed into poverty, arrested en masse and eventually, in the early 20th century, had their children taken away.

For this reason many people, Aboriginal or otherwise, find the day to be more than a little offensive, a stark reminder of the oppression wrought upon the Australian natives for hundreds of years. Alongside Voigt's Google Doodle, #ChangeTheDate began to trend on Twitter, highlighting a campaign to move Australia Day so that the celebration does not remain linked to such a disturbing subject. #InvasionDay was also used to exemplify the darker context of the day, as demonstrators gathered in large numbers in Brisbane, Sydney, Tasmania and elsewhere across the country, as well as observing traditional Aboriginal ceremonies and flying the Aboriginal Flag. This whole thing has served as reminder that the voice of those running the social media platforms differs dramatically from the voices of those who actually engage with it.

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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Australia Day 2016 - Cuteness and Controversy Abound on Social Media Reviewed by Unknown on Wednesday, January 27, 2016 Rating: 5

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