I have no chat. At some point, I’ll have to stop blaming my chatlessness on my international student status (and by extension, my language abilities), and start acknowledging that that’s what limiting your social circle to Tumblr does to you. But not yet. That point is not today. It’s easier to say I’m lost in translation than to say I was born with half a braincell and all the charm of a wooden lug.
Depending on your personal migration history, personality, language skills, and socio-economic background, a migrant might acquire varying levels of social capital and achieve different extents of “integration”. With the luxury of so many clubs and societies, international students are spoiled for choice in terms of spaces for socialisation, but not everyone is comfortable in social situations, especially without alcohol. Social media, on the other hand, can provide useful bridging social capital at a safe distance. Now that the coronavirus is likely to keep us indoors for quite a while, for many of us, online socialisation will be the only socialisation we get. The question I want to ask is, does social media help or hinder migrants “integration”?
Mitra and Evansluong find that receiving approval in the form of social media interaction can give migrants the confidence to engage in social interactions offline (2019). In my own experience, this works as a trial and error system. By looking at other people’s posts and finally attempting to post online, you can get a sense of what is acceptable and desirable in your social circles. Because it often isn’t real time communication, social media gives you the time to grasp what reactions to expect when you say certain things and what to say to get certain reactions. You’d derive your confidence from knowing what to say.
But here’s the problem. What if, like me, your chat is irredeemably shite? What if you couldn’t knock your chat into any semblance of decent patter? The same way it dishes out approval, social media also creates a visual reminder of your failure in the form of single digit likes and GlasKnow rejections (especially GlasKnow rejections). In many cases, perceived social rejection in the host society can be the reason why some migrants prefer socialising with people from the sender society even when they’re online. Another finding from Mitra and Evansluong’s study is that the more time you spend interacting online with people from the sender society, the less incentive you have to interact with members of the host society.
As a migrant, I find it unfair to put the burden of integration on migrants. I also think it’s unnecessary to assume a person must “integrate” into the host society when there are plenty of local introverts who are probably no more “integrated” than migrants. However, as a migrant, I also know that lack of integration will negatively impact migrant quality of life, not least by robbing you of vital information and employment opportunities.
As such, for many transient migrants, social media is a vital tool for socially mediated language learning and social integration. Unfortunately, a lot of social networking services are really Quite Shit™. Take Facebook for example. Some consider VKontakte (aka the Russian Facebook) to be lighter, more user-friendly, and infinitely more aesthetically pleasing. However, because Facebook remains one of the go-to services you add people on in the UK, folks are having to put up with its cluttered-up user interface, not to mention Zuckerborg’s agenda(s). Herein lies the dilemma – you need to learn the (social) rules to break the (social) rules but how do you get learn the rules without playing into the hands of the Zuckster? And is it worth the risk of turning into a ~normie just for the sake of getting good chat through osmosis? At what point does “learning the right thing to say” become “chasing likes”?
Personally, I have had my fun shitposting anywhere and everywhere. It has certainly given me the confidence to chat even more shit in real life. It’s created a useful feedback loop that keeps my social ineptitude in check. Only, now that I finally feel somewhat “integrated” into my host society, I think I maybe belong with the less sociable part of society after all. Making friends with coursemates has certainly taught me a lot, but social media takes its toll. You’ve seen all the ~spiritual YouTube videos talk about the harms of social media so I won’t reiterate here. The point of this column is also not to say that social media is all good or all bad, just that it can be very useful to many, but still be annoying as fuck. I will always be grateful to Facebook for helping me acculturate, but at some point, we all have to grow out of liking The Tab posts shared by Katie from Psychology1B, and I think that day has come for me.
[Ka Leung – she/her]