The Australian government has spent over a billion dollars a year on managing offshore detention (Budget 2018–2019). Central to this offshore management was the transference and mandatory detention of asylum seekers in facilities that sit outside Australia’s national sovereignty, in particular on Manus Island (Papua New Guinea) and Nauru. As a state-sanctioned spatial aberration meant to deter asylum seekers arriving by boat, offshore detention has resulted in a raft of legal and policy actions that are reshaping the modern state-centric understanding of the national space. It has raised questions of sovereignty, of moral, ethical and legal obligations, of national security and humanitarian responsibilities, and of nationalism and belonging. Using a sample of Twitter users on Manus during the closure of the Manus Island detention centre in October–November 2017, this paper examines how asylum seekers and refugees have negotiated and defined the offshore detention space and how through the use of social media they have created a profound disruption to the state discourse on offshore detention. The research is based on the premise that asylum seekers’ use social media in a number of disruptive ways, including normalising the presence of asylum seekers in the larger global phenomena of migration, humanising asylum seekers in the face of global discourses of dehumanisation, ensuring visibility by confirming the conditions of detention, highlighting Australia’s human rights violations and obligations, and challenging the government discourse on asylum seekers and offshore detention. Social media is both a tool and a vehicle by which asylum seekers on Manus Island could effect that disruption.
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