The infinite imagery and information of the internet may be at saturation point. Emily Steer explores the art of ‘incomprehension’ from the 1960s to today.
The psychological impact of mass media has intrigued cultural commentators and artists since the second half of the 20th Century. Mass media can define any means of communication that reaches a large audience. Over the years this has come to include radio broadcasting, television, newspapers, filmmaking, advertising and, most recently, the internet.
Some say that this boom of visual and aural stimuli has led to cognitive overload: the idea that we are being submerged by a vast quantity of information that our brains never could, or should, keep up with. At the most extreme end of this idea is the fear that human cognitive functioning is being unalterably impacted by this constant feed of images and information, and that this overload is numbing communication skills and impacting the way that the brain stores information. For the artists who explore this area, there is often a simultaneous fascination with the technology, and the fear of quite where it is taking the human mind.
US artist Gretchen Bender, photographed in 1986, was part of the Pictures Generation movement (Credit: Courtesy of Gretchen Bender Estate/ Sprüth Magers/ Photo by Hans Neleman)
In the 1980s, struck by the stream of imagery, sound and information flooding through countless television channels, US artist Gretchen Bender developed a series of immersive “electronic theatre” installations. These works combined sound, video, sculpture and performance, critiquing the pull that corporate and media content had on the collective consciousness at the time. In these works, stacks of televisions show a nauseating barrage of images jostling for attention. Animated logos, Hollywood footage and clips showing Cold War military hardware flash before the viewer, overwhelming their senses.
Now, Sprüth Magers gallery in London is presenting a solo show of Bender’s work, exploring this pioneering artist as a precursor to the 21st-Century artists who create for and about the post-internet age. Born in Delaware in 1951, Bender studied art at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the 1970s. She rebelled against the traditional forms of art-making that were pushed on the curriculum at that time, and instead turned to silkscreen printing. She saw this as an early means of mass communication within her practice. It was a process that enabled quick, repeated creation of almost identical works of art.
Bender was ahead of her time. Or, in the words of her ex-creative partner Robert Longo, “I think she was perfectly on time and everyone else was behind times. I met Gretchen in 1981, when I did a performance in Washington,” he tells BBC Culture. “I said ‘move to New York’, and she did!” Longo combines filmmaking with music and art. In the 1980s he was part of the burgeoning Pictures Generation, a group of now world-renowned artists including Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger and Richard Prince, who all still explore the impact of images on our understanding of the world around us. It was a movement that Bender, with her interest in mass communication, quickly became part of.
Among Bender’s series of “electronic theatre” installations is Wild Dead, l, ll, lll (Danceteria Version), 1984 (Credit: Courtesy of Gretchen Bender Estate)
“Gretchen came to live with me as the whole Pictures Generation thing was happening,” Longo continues. “Cindy lived just around the corner. We’d go to parties at [artist] David Salles house. Gretchen was kind of overwhelmed by all of it and she wanted to make art. She was surrounded by all of us doing this media-orientated work. One of the big moments was when I bought a colour television set and VCR.”
Bender’s initial forays into technology and film editing were experimental. She worked alongside Longo on an early music video for an underground New York band. He describes their first work as “pretty awful”, but they soon had requests from other, more prominent bands such as REM and New Order. The experience kickstarted Bender’s fascination with editing.
“We got some home equipment and Gretchen started to do some editing,” says Longo. “We were playing around at home, and I said, ‘Let’s just go nuts’. We started fast cutting it and putting loads of images into it. Gretchen took to it like a duck to water. At the same time, we were watching tonnes of stuff on the VCR and going to lots of movies.”
Bender’s work could be seen as a natural progression from groundbreaking artists such as US-Korean artist Nam June Paik, an early adopter of video art in the 1960s. He electronically distorted sound and images and brought together footage that would not typically be associated: from commercials to news clips and political conferences. He famously coined the term “electronic superhighway” in the 1970s, predicting the virtual network of communication and information possibilities that would eventually be provided by the internet.
In her 1989 installation TV Text Image, numerous televisions show a barrage of images jostling for attention (Credit: Courtesy of Gretchen Bender Estate)
Dara Birnbaum was also experimenting with video art in the 1970s. Her feminist practice touched on the impact that television was having on US domestic life. In one of her most well-known works, Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman (1978-79), she utilised footage of the iconic superhero as played by Lynda Carter. In the work, Carter is shown in an eternal spin, as Birnbaum cuts and repeats her famous transformation from Diana Prince to Wonder Woman and back again. The work comments not just on the social role of women as secretary or superhero with “nothing in-between” but also on the hours of television being repeatedly watched at that time. In the 1970s, North American households were viewing an average of six hours per day.
‘Tower of incomprehension’
Following on from this, the 1980s was a time of radical change, both technologically and politically in the United States. US President Ronald Reagan’s focus on free markets and unconfined capitalism led to an increased focus on commerciality, the idea that buying and selling were the most important aspects of North American life. Bender, alongside fellow members of the Pictures Generation, responded to both of these things.
“One of the amazing changes that happened in the 1980s was the mass use of the remote control,” says Longo. “It was almost like the invention of a gun. We would sit there and flick through stations endlessly. You didn’t have to get up and turn the channel. In the early 1980s there was also the blossoming of video graphics, and these spinning balls and logos. Gretchen was cataloguing and recording everything on television endlessly. We made this New Order video with something like 700 edits in it. She was pushing the machines, like a mad scientist. In the 1980s Ronald Reagan also became president. He was like the first Donald Trump, and we were all really reacting against him.”
In the 40 years since Bender created her electronic theatres, numerous artists have engaged in this form of work beyond those of the Pictures Generation. The sight of stacked television sets is a familiar one to regular gallery goers, and many installations still use retro technology. Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles’s totemic Babel (2001) currently sits in Tate Modern’s public permanent collection. A tower of hundreds of analogue radios all tuned to different stations, Babel sends a paradoxically clear message about the shortcomings of mass communication: when everyone is speaking, no one can be heard.
The exhibition Gretchen Bender: Image World explores the work of the late artist (Credit: Sprüth Magers London/ Ben Westoby)
When I visited Babel, the faint strains of Survivor by Destiny’s Child could be picked up above the surrounding noise. Each experience of the work is different, as the radios pump through live airwaves. The installation has been referred to by Meireles as a “tower of incomprehension”. The name of the work is inspired by the Biblical tale of the Tower of Babel, which was built to be tall enough to reach heaven. Aggrieved by this structure, God doomed each of the builders to speak different languages, plunging them into a divided world, and so beginning global human conflict. The work is a warning about the downside of mass media as well as a celebration of its ingenuity. Viewers can’t help but marvel at the beauty and creativity of some of the devices in the stack, from 1920s valve radios to the portable electronic transmitters of more recent decades.
In the 21st Century, many artists have switched their focus from television and radio to the information overload that exists on the internet. “We started with five channels, then 20, then 100,” Longo tells me. “When everyone got cable, it was like ‘Woah, look at this!’ It was like taking acid. We didn’t have the internet, but I think it was the beginning of what’s happening now.”
Joey Holder is a British multimedia artist who works in collaboration with experts in other fields, from marine biologists to behavioural psychologists. The fictional environments that she creates often speak to the multitude of images and information that sit jarringly side by side on the internet. Unusual connections and endless possibilities emerge in her work.
“With the saturation of information and imagery online, it feels as if there is nothing left to be ‘made’,” she tells me. “I feel fatigued and exhausted by the flatness of the infinite possibilities presented to us on screen. It’s as if everything is possible yet everything is the same. I address this within my work, thinking about the limits of digital information and processing, corporate capture, and how we can potentially transcend it.”
US-Korean artist Nam June Paik, shown here with his 1989 video sculpture Fin de Siecle II, was an early adopter of video art (Credit: Mario Ruiz/ Getty)
Holder is also concerned by the speed at which mass communication has developed, growing at an unprecedented rate that can feel difficult to keep up with. “Mass media has continued to accelerate since the time when Bender’s work became prominent in the 1980s, permeating every part of our contemporary lives and creating a mass effect on the way we see, behave, think and act towards other people,” she says. “I worry about this continually.”
The effects of mass media and communication is an area that has been extensively studied by human behavioral experts. Dr Sharon Coen is a media psychologist and senior lecturer at Manchester’s University of Salford. “I think art, paradoxically, has a better chance than I do in getting the message across,” she tells BBC Culture. “If I say it, it will sound like doom. First of all, artists can take a non-traditional, non-scientific approach, which can help us to understand things in different ways. An art piece hits in the heart.”
While Coen recognises the negative effects that mass media can have, she feels positive about the human ability to recognise the dangers. “There are a lot of alarmist attitudes, feelings of ‘Oh my God, we’re screwed’,” she says. “Actually, the more I talk to people and observe my surroundings, I realise that we are very strategic. With ‘doom scrolling’, some people get sucked in and they spend hours and hours looking at terrible stuff online. But guess what, how did we learn about doom scrolling? Because people realised they were doing it and said ‘Oh, this isn’t good.’ So while it is a problem, I don’t think we should underestimate ourselves.”
Coen traces the fear of collective cognitive decline to long before the internet was formed, and even before the visual overload of television. “A lot of my peers have a tendency to blame the internet and say it’s the origin of all our problems,” she says. “I keep telling them, more than 2,000 years ago Socrates hated writing. Why? Because he was saying we were going to become stupid and not be able to remember anything. He thought our cognitive functioning would change. But in writing we save mental space that we would use in trying to remember everything, and we can use that for other things. It’s always a balance.”
Many of today’s artists have one eye on the trailblazing names who came before them, and the other on future developments that loom on the horizon. “I loathe the idea of the metaverse,” says Holder, “but it seems as if this is the way that the mega-cyber corps want to take us, creating a virtual layer of reality, a simulation of life. Grandiose claims are being made about it. That it will help improve mental health, reduce crime rates and save the planet, but I’m sceptical, and think that the opposite will also be true. I think we should give up on the idea of trying to create a copy of the world in digital form, life is far too complex, it can’t be simulated.”
The totemic artwork Babel, 2001, by Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles is a tower of hundreds of analogue radios, all tuned to different stations (Credit: Cildo Meireles/ Tate)
Gretchen Bender herself had a mixed relationship with the technology and media that her work can be seen to critique. She had a fascination with the process of editing and pushing the machines she worked with to their limit. At the same time, she recognised the dangers of engaging too heavily with the media that was available to her. Longo says that he and his fellow artists were all aware of the downsides: “We were all very critical of the media. This whole thing is about speed and politics. Advanced speed is one of the most important things that has happened in recent years.”
As more streaming channels are released and the internet continues to broaden its scope, this speed shows no sign of decelerating. Yet despite this increased speed and change in the precise forms of communication available since the 1980s, there is something incredibly current about Bender’s work. The experience of standing in front of one of her electronic theatres, overwhelmed by a barrage of moving images, is not too distant from the feeling one might get while passing through Central London’s billboards or trying to close countless pop-up adverts that block a distraction-free read of a news article. The means of communication keep changing but, arguably, the impact stays the same.
Grid News, a one-year-old start-up, shuttered this week after getting acquired by The Messenger, which launches next month. Grid promised a different kind of news. The Messenger has even loftier ambitions. Will this media marriage work?
On Monday, Grid News, a one-year-old online news start-up, went dark; its articles and teal branding disappeared, and its web address redirected to a navy blue page with bright yellow text that read: “Grid has been acquired by The Messenger.”
It all happened suddenly. Last Wednesday, Grid staff got on a Zoom meeting for what some expected to be an announcement of new hires. Perhaps executives from IMI, the Abu Dhabi–based majority investor, had found a new chairman to replace Grid CEO and cofounder Mark Bauman, who departed back in November. Instead, they would learn, IMI had found a new owner: the yet-to-be launched news site by media entrepreneur Jimmy Finkelstein.
Finkelstein joined the meeting, as did his politics editor Marty Kady, but they didn’t take questions. IMI would make a minority investment in The Messenger, which is set to launch in May, as part of the deal. The acquisition came as a surprise to Grid staffers, who said they had been told their start-up, which had roughly 50 employees, had a two- to three-year runway. One staffer I spoke to hadn’t yet heard of The Messenger, the latest media start-up pitching itself as a nonpartisan alternative to what’s currently out there in a glowing announcement in The New York Times. The Gray Lady gave Grid a similar treatment when it launched last January, when the cofounders said they wanted to give readers a “fuller” picture of the news than mainstream media offered.
By the time staffers signed off the Zoom, the acquisition had already been announced to the public; Semafor’s Max Tanitweeted the press release of the deal minutes into the 10 a.m. staff call. Thus commenced roughly 72 hours of chaos: Some in the Grid newsroom left the meeting unclear whether they’d have jobs at The Messenger, or when to stop publishing, or why the acquisition was happening. Grid cofounder and executive editor Laura McGann was on the Wednesday call, but she didn’t say anything, according to two staffers. She made no public statements after the announcement, either—no one from Grid’s management did—raising some eyebrows in the industry. “My priority is figuring this out for the staff,” McGann told me. “I am not up to speed on every detail of this merger, and certainly wasn’t when it was announced, and I’m not going to put myself out there as an authoritative voice when I don’t have all the answers. Certainly the business side was taking the lead.”
Finkelstein and Kady came to Grid’s DC offices the following day to take questions; Grid staff said new leadership emphasized that their idea of a successful news model was one that’s scoopy and fast—neither of which, staffers noted, were consistent with Grid’s focus and intended mission. Some writers spent Friday downloading their articles, not knowing when they’d become inaccessible. By this week, some Grid staffers were still unclear on what they should be doing, with little to no communication from leadership at The Messenger.
Come Monday, the weekend’s episode of Succession—in which the Roy kids plan to launch a “high-visibility, execution-dependent disrupter news brand” and “bespoke information hub” called The Hundred, only to promptly abandon their start-up at the opportunity to buy a legacy media brand—felt all too poignant. (You’ve probably heard Kendall’s description by now: “Substack meets MasterClass meets The Economist meets The New Yorker.”) Grid’s end feels like a critical point in today’s venture capital–funded media landscape. There’s no shortage of media start-ups claiming to shake up the industry, getting tens of millions in funding, and building full-fledged teams. Now, the snake is starting to eat itself; left unclear is what happens to the journalism, and the writers who produce it.
Grid launched with about $10 million in first-round funding from IMI and the tech executive Brian Edelman, at a time when a flood of other start-ups**—**like Semafor, the buzzy site from Ben and Justin Smith; Punchbowl, the Congress-focused outlet launched by a group of ex-Politicos; and Puck, the media start-up boasting lots of big-name writers—with similar ambitions to disrupt the digital news landscape, had emerged. But it struggled in its first year with slow revenue and audience growth. “I don’t think that Grid ever reached a point where somebody would say, ‘This is what Grid does.’ And successfully starting any new media operation is a near impossible needle to thread if you don’t have a very clear mission that distinguishes you from current offerings,” said legal journalist Chris Geidner, who worked at Grid for about six months before leaving to launch his own Substack. The sentiment was echoed by several former staffers, who painted the picture of a newsroom operating without clear “marching orders” and that “didn’t have a super strong mandate.” “Exactly who our funders were and what they wanted was always kind of hazy,” said one. The early months appeared to be for experimentation, only to land writers in “a big meeting where we all got chastised” for not meeting expectations, another former staffer recalled. It was in that meeting, per audio reviewed by Vanity Fair, that writers were told they would be held to publishing goals, be given access to how much traffic their pieces drew, and that they weren’t hitting targets. “It is not enough to come in and spend the day on Slack, and on Twitter, and sort of thinking, maybe reading,” McGann said in the recording. “Your job is not to be on the internet every day. Your job is to contribute to Grid and do the work. Was your day fundamentally about building Grid’s business?”
Grid wanted to distinguish itself “through the journalistic equivalent of multidisciplinary work,” Geidner said, pointing to its 360 format, where the newsroom would team up to analyze a single topic from different angles, which the Times hailed as Grid’s “magic bullet.” There were many talented journalists at Grid doing good work, but the 360 format and broader multidisciplinary aims ended up being, among other things, a logistical challenge, Geidner said. Grid ended up publishing only a few 360s a month. More often it was publishing single-bylined stories, much like other news outlets. The idea behind Grid, ultimately also ran into a bigger issue. “I think they had this model of: Let’s look differently, let’s be thoughtful, dive into the news and give people what they aren’t getting,” said a current Grid staffer. “They held true to that mission. The question they were trying to solve is just, when you’re doing non-clickbait, how do you make sure you can monetize that?”
McGann said Grid’s daily newsletter had amassed more than 200,000 subscribers by the time it was acquired, and they were thinking about expanding it further. (McGann, who started Grid after six years at Vox, declined to offer specifics on what’s next for her other than being in talks with The Messenger.) “I don’t think we are being sucked into the ether,” she said when I asked her what Grid’s story says about the broader media start-up landscape. “I think that we built something really good, and someone with a lot of money who’s building something even more ambitious sees value in what we built, and wants to expand and grow in other directions. And that’s the point of all this.”
The Messenger has set lofty goals: It wants to be free but generate more than $100 million in revenue next year, mostly through advertising and events; is anticipating more than 100 million monthly readers; and expects to hire about 550 journalists in a year, according to the Times—ambitions that strucksome as absurd. Acquiring Grid seems to be, more than anything else, a way for The Messenger to scale quickly. Executives told the Times that the site will launch this spring with at least 175 journalists across New York, Washington, and Los Angeles. A company spokesperson said that the “vast majority of Grid’s editorial team will join The Messenger.” Finkelstein is pitching what he claims is a bygone era of unobjectionable news: “I remember an era where you’d sit by the TV, when I was a kid with my family, and we’d all watch 60 Minutes together,” Finkelstein, who sold The Hill to Nexstar for $130 million in 2021, told the Times. “Or we all couldn’t wait to get the next issue of Vanity Fair or whatever other magazine you were interested in. Those days are over, and the fact is, I want to help bring those days back.”
What that means functionally is more opaque. “I think we have learned that if people with enough of a pedigree make a pitch to rich people about ‘unbiased media’ that will present the ‘straight news,’ those people can still convince themselves that they will be the ones to do it properly,” Geidner said of the broader start-up media environment.
There are lessons to be learned from Grid in that regard. “There seems to be a feeling that there’s a huge market out there for people who don’t want Fox and don’t want MSNBC and just want a straight newsfeed. More power to them, if it’s true. The question is, how do you find the market and how do you monetize it?” said Columbia Journalism School professor Bill Grueskin. After all, CNN has been trying to do this, and “is finding it pretty hard.”
Sometimes minor events can be eloquent – a sign of the times and a demonstration of where we are at.
So it is that a visit by a provincial leader to the biggest trading partner of his province has become not only a news story, but the focus of innuendo and outrage.
I am talking about Victorian premier Daniel Andrews’ four-day visit to China, which started this week, and the bevy of articles suggesting that there is something shady about it – with that impression bolstered by his refusal to include a media contingent.
At the macro level the controversy says something about China, our region, and the difficulties of Australian foreign policy. Once, Australia’s main trade relationships were with our strategic allies. That time has long passed.
Now we must manage a trade relationship with an autocracy, and an increasingly aggressive strategic rival to our main ally, the US.
And at the micro level, the dispute tells us something about the dire state of relations between the media in Victoria and the premier. And this trip is a convincing demonstration of another kind of democratic problem.
Let’s deal with the macro first. Once, a visit to China by a Victorian premier would have been unexceptional, and a cause for congratulations.
I was in Shanghai, working for the University of Melbourne, in 2011 when premier Ted Baillieu was also in town leading a delegation of businesses.
At a combined drinks function, Baillieu and academics chatted with local government officials and a large number of University of Melbourne alumni, who had returned home with the benefits of a Victorian education and were now working throughout government and business.
It was a celebratory affair. In university lecture halls discussion with students and academic colleagues was surprisingly free. There was great optimism that China would be liberalising, that relations between our countries could only improve to the benefit of all.
That was the year before president Xi Jinping became paramount leader, and bit by bit that optimism faded.
Some of those former students and academic colleagues are now much more cautious. Some of my former journalism students have even been detained, or banned from contact with people like me.
Baillieu had a small media contingent with him – as have most if not all premiers who have visited China since, including Andrews on his previous visits.
But things are different now. China has changed, and not in the way the optimists hoped for.
The Albanese government has been working hard to stabilise relations with China, with good results. Another trip by a premier is therefore not surprising, and indeed a good sign.
And despite some weird, innuendo-laden articles in the Victorian media, nobody respectable has suggested that Andrews shouldn’t go. Rather, the disputes are about the lack of a media contingent to accompany him, a lack of transparency about his aims and whether he should raise human rights issues.
It’s not helpful that too many commentators are stuck in binary thinking – China good or China bad – rather than dealing with the more complicated reality that China is a major power and a major trading partner and we have to learn to live in a region where it will continue to be important, and perhaps dominant, without surrendering our national interests.
That takes a subtle approach.
In interviews and speeches, Australia’s foreign minister, Penny Wong, has made it clear that she is talking about “stabilising” the relationship with a deliberate use of language. “I don’t use the word normalise. I don’t use the word reset because … neither country is going back to where we were 15 years ago.”
Rather, she is pursuing “managed strategic competition” between the superpowers, and greater agency for the middle powers of the region, including Australia. She has talked about “guardrails” to prevent the inevitable competition between the superpowers escalating to war.
How does all that affect the visit of a provincial leader, such as Andrews?
When Baillieu and the University of Melbourne were hobnobbing in Shanghai, it was possible to believe that the economic aspects of the relationship could be separated from the strategic foreign policy.
That is no longer the case. China has demonstrated it is prepared to use trade policy as an instrument of wider foreign policy, and in particular to try to punish its critics.
Australia has not cowed under that pressure, and things are getting better now, hence the unsurprising nature of another visit to China by Andrews. But Wong has made it clear that businesses should continue to diversify their markets, because China could once again restrict trade at anytime.
Andrews is certainly too intelligent not to “get” this context, but he is eschewing any suggestion he should let it get in the way of business.
Rather, he is performing the time-honoured role of state premiers – an entrepreneur and a hustler for his state, after money and business.
He has so far resisted raising human rights issues such as the detention of the Victorian journalist Cheng Lei, let alone acknowledging concerns that new trains for Melbourne’s railway network continue to be built with parts from a Chinese company accused of using forced labour from Uyghurs.
So what about the lack of a media contingent? Most trips by state premiers and indeed Wong’s own trip to China have included media. Not many get to go. Wong’s media contingent included just two journalists.
Journalists’ presence means that travelling politicians can clarify what they are doing and, perhaps particularly important in Andrews’ case, what they are NOT doing.
The idea that such a trip can be used as a major “holding to account” is a fiction. First, getting visas is increasingly complicated and not to be taken for granted. And, once in China, access to the local officials is negligible. The main person any travelling journalists would get to see would be Andrews.
Nevertheless, of course it would be better for Andrews to take some media. I agree that his refusal to do so is a worrying sign of increasing arrogance from this long-term, dominant premier.
But here’s the thing. Would they do a good job, or would it be all “Chairman Dan” binary thinking, innuendo and local political bullshit?
Andrews won his fourth term despite an extraordinary, fact-lite and vitriolic campaign by the Murdoch press in particular, including stories suggesting there was something suspicious about the 2021 accident in which he broke his back.
While this was the Murdoch press, some of the silliness has infected most Victorian media outlets, at least since the Covid-19 lockdowns and the Daily Dan press conferences, in which the premier exemplified the art of ignoring questions, using the journalists as props while speaking over their heads to the audience watching live.
Too many in the media engage in performative watchdoggery, not actual holding to account.
Would a media contingent travelling with Andrews do better than this? We have to hope so.
But clearly Andrews reckons he can snub the media without bearing a political cost, and he is probably right about that.
That is a worrying democratic deficit – but the blame for it cuts multiple ways.
According to the survey, over three-in-ten (31%) Canadian newcomers who use social media use “six or more platforms.”
Put simply, social media is a significant part of the lived experience for many Canadian newcomers. From finding job opportunities and building a support network to learning about Canadian culture and staying connected with loved ones back home, social media offers a wide range of benefits to new Canadian immigrants.
There are many ways social media can help new immigrants succeed, both before and after they arrive in Canada.
Building a strong personal brand
In 2022, 256,000 permanent residents landed in Canada through economic immigration streams. As defined by the Canadian government, this immigration category focuses on choosing “skilled immigrants who are able to settle in Canada and contribute to [the] economy.” This contribution occurs, largely, because these immigrants arrive and find employment in Canada, which allows them to contribute to the economy by then spending money on goods and services.
It is vital that immigrants coming to Canada work hard to establish a strong personal brand, as doing so will help them during the job search and hiring process. Having an active social media presence means job seekers will be better able to market themselves and be accessible to recruiters or hiring professionals looking for an individual with their skills, qualifications, and expertise. In addition, as a job seeker looking for a good place to work, immigrants (and Canadians alike) can also get to know companies (values, culture, day-to-day activities) via their various social channels.
Social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter can be imperative in this journey, as many employers perform online background checks to analyze an individual’s online presence when considering candidates for a job position.
In fact, nearly two-thirds (65%) of Canadian companies use social media as a means of screening applicants, and 64% of companies find this screening method effective. This is according to a survey by The Harris Poll published in January this year. More than 40% of surveyed employers who used social media for candidate screening “report finding content on a job candidate’s social media that caused the hiring manager not to employ them.”
Here are three tips for establishing a strong, positive online presence:
Be active and engaging: Part of creating a positive online persona is engagement. Find others in your field, experts in your industry, and regularly comment and engage with their content
Share relevant and informative content: Sharing informative and relevant content related to your industry can help demonstrate your expertise and passion for your work to potential employers
Keep your content clean and professional: Proofread your posts and captions, use a professional headshot as your profile picture, and avoid mixing personal content with professional content
Social media as a tool for employment opportunities
Once newcomers establish a strong personal brand, social media can be used as a tool for finding employment opportunities.
According to a study by Toronto Metropolitan University, “those that use social media are 3.5 times more likely to be employed than those that use traditional media.”
Using Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, newcomers to Canada can connect with potential employers, research companies, and learn about job opportunities. In fact, Twitter and LinkedIn can be used to follow companies and connect with individuals in industries/professions of interest.
In particular, LinkedIn can also be leveraged by newcomers to ask questions of their connections, find helpful career resources and engage in conversation around professional topics of interest. Connections made through this platform may ultimately help newcomers to Canada build relationships and expose them to job prospects they may not otherwise get. That is a significant reason why LinkedIn has become an increasingly popular job searching platform. In fact, 2023 data from social media management platform Hootsuite indicates that 52 million people use the platform to search for jobs each week. Every second, 101 job applications are submitted on LinkedIn globally and eight people are hired through LinkedIn every minute.
Note: LinkedIn also offers employers the ability to post jobs directly to the platform, further enabling newcomers to increase their employment prospects through this application
Building a support network by connecting with other newcomers
Apart from arriving in Canada and establishing a professional life, immigrants can use social media to connect with others and form a support network, helping them become more comfortable with life outside of work.
In other words, newcomers to Canada can use features available on traditional platforms like Facebook (groups) to find others in a similar situation as them. Examples of Facebook groups to join include “neighbourhood” groups, specific to an immigrant’s local community. These groups are often where people share information about community events, a good way for newcomers to connect with other locals and build a support network, potentially leading to new friendships and opportunities.
Other examples of platforms that are known for community-building are LinkedIn and Reddit, where users can connect and form bonds with others over shared experiences and challenges. Discussion forums like the CanadaVisa Forum also exist for newcomers to connect and discuss their questions, concerns and milestones throughout the immigration journey, both after they land and settle in Canada as well as before they arrive in this country.
Embracing Canadian culture and enhancing the Canadian experience
New immigrants to Canada can also use social media to discover cultural events and activities, stay informed about Canadian news and trends, learn about Canadian culture, and enhance their overall experience in Canada.
Twitter, for instance, allows users to stay informed about what’s happening across Canada. Following news outlets, journalists, and bloggers on Twitter also allows newcomers to participate in discussions on current events, just like over 7 million Canadians already do.
Note: Aside from Twitter, subscribing to Canadian news channels on YouTube can also help newcomers remain aware of what’s going on around the country
Here are other ways to use social media to become more connected with Canadian culture:
Use Instagram or TikTok to follow Canadian influencers who share insights and perspectives on Canadian culture
Subscribe to channels by Canadian travel vloggers or lifestyle influencers on YouTube for inspiration and ideas on how to get more involved with events and develop a social life in Canada
Influencers, whether they are newcomers themselves or they were born in Canada, will share ideas on activities to experience, places to visit, foods to try and more. Influencers who are newcomers themselves often also share things that helped them get settled or feel at home when they first came to Canada.
Vloggers, meanwhile, often take their viewers on a journey through video, including to different parts of this country. This can help newcomers experience areas of Canada that they may not know about and learn about the general way of life in different Canadian communities.
Staying connected with friends and family back home
While it is crucial for immigrants to embrace their new environment, it is also important that newcomers to Canada do not completely lose touch with the friends and family they may be leaving in their home country. The power of social media makes staying in touch with friends and family back home easier and more accessible than ever before.
In addition to traditional video conferencing tools such as Skype and Zoom, social media platforms like WhatsApp, Telegram, Facebook Messenger and Instagram offer a range of inexpensive international communication options. From free messaging to voice and video calling, these platforms provide newcomers to Canada with an easier way to stay connected with those back home no matter where they are in the world. Additionally, many social media applications enable users to share updates and photos, giving family and friends another way to stay connected with the newcomer’s life in Canada and vice versa.