Social media as a tool for newcomers | New Canadian Media
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Out of 500 Newcomers surveyed, 65 per cent were social media users and 82 per cent had connected with a person or group about immigration before their arrival in Canada. Art by Angel Xing.

Immigrants turning to social media to ease transition to Canada: survey, experts say

A study of 500 new immigrants found social media is a useful, but tricky tool to navigate for newcomers.

Tech savvy immigrants are turning to social media to assist with job searches and to familiarize themselves with their new community upon arrival. But with the prevalence of social media use, experts caution that chances of spreading misinformation increases as well.

A recent study from Toronto Metropolitan University found that a “large number of immigrants used social media to find employment information before arriving” in Canada. However, Canadian Settlement Service Provider Organizations that help newcomers find jobs are still new to using social media, the report said, creating a gap between newcomers and these organizations. What’s more, experts share that social media is also replacing search engines, connecting immigrants with information about their new communities.

“Social media is now a platform for more than just getting entertained,” said Maliheh Ghaneei, an Instagram influencer whose username is @malihehx. Ghaneei started posting about her experience living in Canada for her audience: the Iranian community. “It is a source of information you can find nowhere else,” she added 

A source of employment information

A Toronto Metropolitan University survey of 500 new immigrants asked about how they found job prospects prior to arriving in Canada and found that 65 per cent were social media users and 82 per cent had connected with a person or group about immigration before coming to Canada. Their most-used social media platforms include Facebook, LinkedIn, QZone and online discussion forums. 

When newcomers were looking for a job, interview advice, or salary information, they relied on LinkedIn more than other platforms, while mostly using email and phone calls to learn about occupation licensing requirements, higher education, and skill training information.

Within  the first six months of being in Canada, survey respondents who used social media before arrival had, on average, a three-to-one advantage getting established in the labour market compared to those who did not use social media before their arrival.

Social media also helped survey respondents find work that better matched their credentials. 

Azadeh Yousefi, who moved to Vancouver over five months ago, said her lack of familiarity with the law, modes of communication, job prospects, and Canada in general made the immigration and settlement process challenging, but social media helped her find answers to many of her questions. 

“Before coming to Canada, I was able to find reasonably accurate information about this country’s cost of living and I got an overview of work and income to see if I could afford my living expenses in a new country,” Yousefi said. “I did this by using social media, specifically Instagram, and by corresponding with people who already resided in this country.”

Yousefi also used social media to connect with people who were further along in their immigration process and received advice from them. Now that she’s in the country, Yousefi is continuing to use social media to find sports and art clubs in her new community, and keep up with local news, weather and events.

Social media a hub of information for newcomers

 According to experts, social media is increasingly being used like a search engine, to bring people information.

At a technology conference in July 2022, Google executive Prabhakar Raghavan spoke about how search functions are being used differently in the present day, particularly among new internet users.

“Something like almost 40 per cent of young people, when they’re looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search,” Raghavan said. “They go to TikTok or Instagram.” 

Mina Einifar, a social media specialist based in Vancouver, sees this information source shift happen in real time, especially as brands and agents have used social media to build trust with their audiences.

Social media users who produce content about immigration are a part of this information flow. They include personal experiences in their content and create informational and entertaining channels.

“I started to share about everything important that I wish I had known earlier in my immigration journey. I received a lot of positive feedback from the audience,” Instagram influencer Ghaneei said. “They all agreed that this information gave them a better understanding of life in Canada. Even some of them mentioned they changed their mind and did not want to immigrate anymore, or some found better immigration programs. The trust built over time on social media accounts like mine makes them a reliable source of information that people with the same background can relate to.” 

Recently, Ghaneei said she started helping immigrants find jobs and sharing information with students who are eager to continue their education in Canada. Ghaneei noted that being an immigrant in a new country can be isolating and said social media can help them find friends or social events and gatherings.

“Without this opportunity, it would be tough to get involved in the community as an immigrant,” Ghaneei said. 

Closing the ‘social media information gap’

While social media users provide newcomers with valuable resources and information, fact-checking and comparing online sources is also needed so newcomers can be confident in the information they receive, experts say.  

According to Einifar, misinformation is in abundance online but so is helpful information, making social media both deceiving and beneficial to newcomers making critical life decisions. 

The study from Toronto Metropolitan University found that 166 of the 500 survey respondents came across misinformation when using social media to learn about the Canadian labour market. One hundred and sixty-two respondents said they did not have the right skills, knowledge or training to use social media to learn about the labour market. Some respondents said they experienced discrimination on social media as well as fraud, identity theft, and privacy or security threats.

“There is plenty of wrong information and click-bait posts about every topic, including immigration,” Einifar said. “However, if users combine social media information with their own research on genuine [government] platforms, then they can make more confident decisions and reach out for help and guidance easier using these online facilities.”

The results of the survey show that while immigrants are using social media to search for labour market information before coming to Canada, Settlement Service Provider Organizations (SSPOs) that help newcomers find employment are still new to using social media for communication.

The university suggests that these organizations analyze which social media platforms align with the services they provide and invest programming efforts into those platforms. 

“With a strategic focus, SSPOs will help to improve the job search results for newcomers and close the social media information gap,” the study concluded.

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A Vancouver B.C based journalist who writes about the Iranian community in Canada, art, culture and social media trends.

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