How Narratives Get Taken Up: Vancity Buzz

Last friday February 7th there was a lantern event held at Spanish banks for two very different reasons.

The first, by organizer Yakiv Yaholnitser, was a way to peacefully protest and raise funds for the conflicts occurring in Ukraine dubbed “Euromaiden.”

The second, by Vancity Buzz was “an authentic Chinese New Year Sky Lantern Festival.”

Problems on authenticity aside, what happened was that Vancity Buzz miss interpreted an event for the UBC community and broadcasted it to the wider Vancouver audience. The event was promoted as a Chinese New Year event which was not the purpose that Yaholnitser, a Ukrainian, had in mind. (Edit: Looking at Vancity Buzz’s post again it seems that they added a bit saying that the money is going to Ukraine. However it is at the very bottom of the page and was probably added due to complaint).

This is not the first time Vancity Buzz has been in trouble for taking up other people’s stories/event. Back in October the site stole a post made on the “#WhatShouldWeCallUBC” tumblr and reposted it on their site without recognition. The Ubyssey (who I write for occasionally) wrote a cool blog post about it here.

Yaholnitser received a lot of criticism for the event indirectly on the Vancity Buzz article. People gave him a lot of hate for destroying the environment, putting peoples houses at risk, etc. However, his lanterns that he sold specifically for the UBC event were biodegradable (made out of bamboo and rice paper), but the other 6,000 people who showed up had a variety of lantern.  Some that included metal framed ones that do NOT biodegrade. So his close intimate gathering was turned into this massive publicized event that garnered him un wanted and un expected attention.

Vanicty Buzz took up his personal narrative of being a Ukrainian national and having a personal connection to the violence occurring there, in order to bringing revenue to their site. The site is a for profit company that operates on a ad based revenue stream and the article, which received 14, 000 “likes” sure brought in some money. So we can look at how his personal life narrative was taken, twisted, and commodified in order to promote Vancity Buzz as a company that is “just letting you know about the cool thing happening in our city.”

What happened raises a lot of questions on the ethics of the reproduction of people’s own stories by other bigger companies. Because, yes the event was a completely unexpected success gathering  7,000 people, but was it a success for the purposes originally set out? Perhaps if the event was marketed as a Ukrainian event it would be okay, because it would keep the original message. However, because it blatantly ignored Yaholnitser’s personal story, I believe that it was not a success. Vancity Buzz profited on the stealing of a UBC event.