Student newspapers at the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Okanagan and Vancouver campuses are adjusting to social media changes spurred on by Canada’s contentious Bill C-18 legislation, also known as the “Online News Act.”
Bill C-18 was introduced with the intention of providing “a new bargaining framework intended to support news businesses to secure fair compensation” for Canadian journalists whose work is “made available by dominant digital news intermediaries,” such as Meta and Google.
On June 22, 2023, Bill C-18 officially became law in Canada. On this same date, Meta (formerly known as Facebook Inc.) confirmed it would ban all news publications, links, and references from its Instagram and Facebook platforms.
In their June 22 announcement, Meta stated, “We want to assure the millions of Canadians on our platforms that they will always be able to connect with friends and family, grow their businesses and support their local communities.”
This promise from Meta was certainly not extended to UBC’s student newspapers.
Social media at The Phoenix
Tina Liu has been the social media coordinator at UBC Okanagan’s student newspaper, The Phoenix for just over a year. As a socially active and outspoken individual, she thrives in her role. Liu stated Meta’s response to Bill C-18 has personally and professionally impacted her.
Liu was in the United States when Meta began blocking Canadian news on its Facebook and Instagram platforms, so the news ban did not immediately affect her life. But then, she started getting concerning messages from social media contacts back in Canada.
“My friends started reaching out to me [with online news media] like, ‘Hey, can you see this?’ and I was like, ‘I actually can see it on my end in the States,’” said Liu. However, as she returned to Vancouver, she realized she could not access the news anymore.
Liu found Meta’s news ban to be a great inconvenience to her life. “I get a majority of my news sources from Instagram, especially on [Instagram] stories,” said Liu. “For example, I follow CNN, and I follow BBC News and all that stuff. And it was an incredibly inconvenient time for a news ban because the wildfires were also happening.”
This summer, Canada experienced its worst wildfire season on record, and Meta was blasted for stopping the spread of wildfire news shared by Canadian journalists and news organizations.
Meta’s Canadian news ban heavily impacted Liu’s work at The Phoenix.
Before the news ban, The Phoenix used Instagram as a platform to communicate with students, and post photos and videos related to its articles.
“A lot of our articles stem from student opinions,” said Liu. “So as a result, a lot of the time on my stories, whenever the articles need some quotes from students, or just experiences that they think would amplify the story, I would post some stuff on an Instagram story being like, ‘Hey, what are your thoughts on blah blah blah.’”
Liu continued, “For instance, the big thing that was going on last year, at the beginning of the year, was the bus strikes. [The Phoenix] was writing a really incredible article about how the bus strikes were impacting students, and getting that feedback from students on Instagram was useful because it gave that perspective of ‘Hey, this is really important, we need to actually compensate the workers.’”
Liu also emphasized the former usefulness of Instagram polls.
“It was incredibly useful having the [Instagram] polls where students could vote ‘yes’ or ‘no,” she said. “Or, just hearing that feedback from students, because that’s who we were presenting, right?
“At The Phoenix, we’re supposed to represent all bodies and all student bodies. I want to be able to repost some stuff on Instagram about other UBCO clubs that are having cool events, but I can’t even do that anymore. It just frustrates me, because these clubs want to get better and gain attraction, and we can’t use our platform on Instagram to support them anymore.”
At the time of writing, The Phoenix’s Instagram account had 446 posts and over 1,700 followers.
The Ubyssey before Bill C-18
Anabella McElroy is the coordinating editor at UBC Vancouver’s student newspaper, The Ubyssey. She stated that her interest in student journalism at UBC Vancouver began with “a bit of a joke” based on a shared last name with current CBC journalist (and former Ubyssey journalist) Justin McElroy. However, her underlying passion for learning more about “what was going on on campus” and a desire to improve her writing skills inspired her to work for The Ubyssey.
McElroy began working at The Ubyssey as a staff writer in September 2021, and became a news editor in 2022. In 2023, she was elected coordinating editor. Through all of her experience in these positions over the years, McElroy has had an intimate view of the world of student journalism before and after Meta’s controversial news ban.
McElroy said that Facebook used to be one of The Ubyssey’s most influential social media platforms, explaining that “Facebook used to be really important to The Ubyssey, five years ago or so. A lot more students were on Facebook, so it would actually drive quite a bit of traffic to the [Ubyssey] website.”
But then, Instagram began growing in popularity.
“Instagram definitely has become the primary way that students are getting news,” said McElroy. “I feel like that’s how students know about us, and it’s how they share information. So, up until the news ban, Instagram was really the primary way of getting our name out on campus, which was useful in a bunch of ways. Like, primarily, as you know, we see our role on campus as providing information to the community. Instagram was a great way to do that.”
Before Meta’s news ban, Instagram also helped The Ubyssey find sources and contributors. McElroy explained that student fees fund their work, but this is “something that students can opt out of.” Instagram also helped them publicize their journalistic work and ensure they were not seen as just another “faceless club.”
At the time of writing, The Ubyssey’s Instagram had 701 posts and 5,613 followers.
When the news ban was implemented, McElroy said that her personal news consumption habits were not impacted much, as she did not use Instagram as a primary source for news. But, as someone working at a student paper, she found Meta’s news ban “frustrating and scary.”
Speaking to her newspaper’s initial response to Meta’s news ban announcement, McElroy revealed that The Ubyssey hoped that it would “fly under the radar” and continue to have the ability to post news on Meta’s platforms.
“As a student newspaper, we want to be taken seriously,” explained McElroy. “But at the same time, we are a different kind of organization than a professional newspaper.”
Although there are numerous frustrations related to The Phoenix and The Ubyssey’s work after Meta’s news bans, both newspapers are using the ban as an opportunity to build up other platforms to share their journalistic work.
At UBCO, Liu is working on re-strategizing The Phoenix’s social media outreach.
“I have to take a different, creative approach to things. So, instead of posting everything on Instagram, I need to strategically post some stuff on specific platforms,” said Liu. “So when job postings are open, LinkedIn is the best for that. Not Twitter. But, if I’m posting about a new print issue being out, LinkedIn is not going to be as helpful.”
“It’s like now there’s little puzzles to everything. And I feel like that no matter what. But in general, [Meta’s news ban] is just like, making me take two steps back when I should be taking two steps forward. It is definitely very frustrating in that sense.”
TikTok is another platform that Liu plans to use more at The Phoenix, although this will require more work, organization, and planning on her end. According to a census-balanced survey published by Toronto Metropolitan University in 2022, 26% of Canadians use TikTok, with 65% of those who use it using it daily.
“With TikTok, I have to do a lot more filming, which I don’t mind, personally. It’s just a bit more inconvenient because a lot of people are just not as available,” Liu admitted.
Liu hopes to bring The Phoenix some “viral” videos on TikTok in the coming year by playing on popular TikTok trends. But, in addition to her TikTok dreams, she also divulged that The Phoenix has just opened a YouTube account.
“We’re going to take advantage of YouTube Shorts,” said Liu. “We’re going to take advantage of more [video] interviews. We’re definitely going to try to aim to repost from other clubs, and the SUO [Student Union Okanagan] at UBC, which is a very popular Instagram account, which a majority of people do follow at UBC.”
Over at The Ubyssey, McElroy maintained that her student newspaper continues to promote its journalistic work on various platforms unaffected by Meta’s news bans.
“We’re very lucky that we have been able to continue printing physical newspapers, so we’re continuing to promote those,” said McElroy. “I’m trying to redirect our time that we would have been spending on Instagram — posting a little more on Reddit; putting more time into our newsletter, and making sure that that’s a really good product and a useful tool for people who are trying to get information out of it; and just continuing in-person engagement.”
“I just want us to be a presence on campus. [I want] people to know that we serve all these various purposes on campus. We’re very proud to be like a ‘hyper-local community newspaper,’ but also an educational space for anyone who wants to learn how to write in a journalistic style or take photos or videos. So, yeah, it’s re-investing in promotional tools that we can control, while we’re still hopeful that we’ll be able to post on Instagram again because it doesn’t seem like students are going to be leaving it anytime soon.”
McElroy hopes that students will continue to go “directly to reputable news sources” during Meta’s news ban, instead of letting Bill C-18 dictate all of their news consumption.
“I just hope that people don’t take the [news] block as, like, ‘well, I won’t read the news ever again,’ because there are alternative ways to get to it that aren’t controlled by an engagement algorithm.”
Support UBC’s student newspapers during Meta’s news ban
For more information on The Ubyssey’s publications and newsletter reporting on the UBC Vancouver campus, you can visit their website at ubyssey.ca.
For local UBC Okanagan news, you can follow The Phoenix on its various platforms that Meta’s news ban has not impacted:
LinkedIn: The Phoenix News
X (previously known as “Twitter”): @ubcophoenixnews