Social media usage has been recognized as an integral part of immigrants’ acculturation experiences, yet research on social media is just emerging, and more detailed understanding is needed. In this report, researchers sought to understand how Chinese immigrants’ social media use influences their acculturation experiences. They looked at which social media platforms Chinese immigrants use and for what purposes, as well as what influence social media use has on their acculturation process in Canada. Their findings echo and reinforce what we have heard and know about newcomer use of social media and information practices, offering additional evidence and practical tips for immigrant and refugee-serving organizations.
The report authors discussed their findings in this November 2021 Pathways to Prosperity Canada conference session:
Social media has become an integral part of immigrants’ adaptation. The types of social communication immigrants engage can impact acculturation. The authors write:
"Past research has found that different immigrant groups use social media for different purposes. Some studies have found that Facebook is one of the most frequently used platforms among immigrants, including Chinese international students, for host cultural communication (Hofhuis, Hanke, & Rutten, 2019). Other studies have found that immigrants use Facebook mainly to connect with family and friends at home or to express their ethnic cultural identity (Lim & Pham, 2016). Of relevance to the current project, other researchers have suggested that, for Chinese immigrants, WeChat is most prevalent for both host and ethnic communication (Chen, Butler, & Liang, 2018). These findings highlight the importance of focusing on specific immigrant groups to understand how each group uses social media differently, including what platforms they use and how they use those platforms. This is particularly important given the current transition to
providing settlement services in virtual formats (Helps, Silvius, & Gibson, 2020). A greater understanding of social media use will help settlement agencies deliver targeted settlement programs."
"... past studies have demonstrated inconsistent findings about the effects of social media on acculturation. One possible explanation is that most studies failed to recognize the intricate nature of social media communication. Social media can transcend the boundaries of interpersonal and mass communication, as well as ethnic and host communication. For example, although Facebook is generally considered a host communication platform, ethnic communication occurs on Facebook as well. Immigrants connect to other individuals through social media; however, they also consume information and news on social media. To understand the impact of such complex communication platforms, we must consider the different types of communication happening on social media."
Based on these and other literature findings, researchers explored these questions:
What did researchers do?
They conducted "two studies using a mixed-method approach. Study 1 used focus groups to seek qualitative information that describes Chinese immigrants’ experiences of using social media in the acculturation process. Built on the results from Study 1, Study 2 used a survey to explore the relations between specific social media use and acculturation outcomes."
Three focus groups (90 minutes each) with a total of 24 participants were conducted in Mandarin. Participants were recruited through an organization that provides services to Chinese immigrants.
What did the researchers learn?
Unsurprisingly, WeChat is the most frequently used social media platform/channel/tool. YouTube and Facebook were used moderately frequently: "Many participants indicated that they use YouTube fairly frequently, particularly to learn English, to get local news and information, and for entertainment. Though Facebook was used less frequently, it emerged as a means of connecting with host country individuals. However, no meaningful themes emerged for WhatsApp and Twitter because participants used these platforms infrequently."
Chinese immigrants find a wealth of settlement information on social media, which has helped with social and psychological adaptation: "WeChat groups help us a lot when we first came. For new immigrants, if they don’t know anyone here, their life will be very difficult. Very difficult. Since I have a relative who has lived here for about 20 years, he helped me a lot. He recommended many WeChat groups, such as the house group, the vehicle maintenance group, the house or the apartment renting group."
Facebook is a way, particularly for younger participants, to connect with people outside of their community. YouTube is a useful tool to watch news and learn English.
Social media is seen, as outlined above, as both good and bad for acculturation: "In my opinion, social media has two sides. The positive side is, particularly, when we first
arrived, everything was new for us; WeChat groups helped us to know a lot of people. WeChat groups also let us know a lot of activities. These activities gave us an excellent opportunity to communicate with different people. So, we knew many neighbors. Then, we could often connect with them. Yet, the negative thing is that to some extent, the groups limit my view. I tend to learn about local life from the WeChat groups instead of communicating with Canadians." Some described WeChat as "a cultural bubble that limits connections outside the Chinese immigrant
The follow up survey underscored "the importance of social media use in predicting and explaining acculturation of immigrants."
How can you use this research?
"The COVID-19 pandemic has forced settlement agencies to quickly pivot their programs online (Esses et al., 2021). In this context, findings from this project can inform future settlement programming. Because using WeChat to learn English was negatively associated with English skills, immigrant-serving agencies can encourage newcomers to avoid this platform for language acquisition. Moreover, given that newcomers turn to social media to acquire receiving-country language skills, agencies can leverage this trend to create their own virtual language platforms or virtual language channels on YouTube.
Results from the current study suggest that finding resettlement information using social media platforms is positively associated with psychological adaptation. This builds on previous studies demonstrating that newcomers rely heavily on social media for resettlement information (Ahmed, Veronis, & Alghazali, 2020). Prearrival information programs and postarrival resettlement programs are encouraged to harness the power of social media for providing newcomers with valuable information. It is important to ensure that such information is accurate and helps to foster realistic expectations about life in the receiving country."
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