Why City of Calgary hopped on this Insta filter trend

If Calgary's landmarks were personified, and you could pick one, would you be more of a Calgary Tower-type, or are you more of a modern icon, like the Peace Bridge?

This augmented reality is supposed to help citizens love Calgary more

The City of Calgary's filter was illustrated by Sarah Johnston. (Helen Pike/CBC)

If Calgary's landmarks were personified, and you could pick one, would you be more of a Calgary Tower-type, or are you more of a modern icon, like the Peace Bridge? 

Well, if you have an Instagram account, the city has you covered. This week it released a "virtual reality" filter that tells you exactly what landmark you are with the push of a button.

It's a trend that caught on over the holidays as part of the app's story section. The filter that started it all may have been a Disney-type game that cycled through characters to help the user decide if they are more of an Ursula or Ariel.

But the filter comes in all varieties — like telling social media users what type of cheese they might be. 

In theory, there are no winners or losers in this game, although some may argue being categorized as processed American cheese instead of sharp aged cheddar is less than ideal.

At the University of Calgary, it's easy to find folks who know how to use Instagram. A group of friends checked out the city's version of the filter trend.

What about in real life?

Some of the friends think the city should work more in real-life on bringing citizens together.

"I'd say not everyone is on social media," Kaolin English said. "Like, I want to go for a walk and I want to see what's happening within the city."

Laura Aya says she actually follows the city's social account, and it has helped her keep up with events and other things happening around the city. 

"It kind of reminds me of like all the fun places that are in Calgary," Aya said.

Laura Aya, left, Paulina Westergard and Sofia Aya try out the City of Calgary's Instagram filter. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Julia Custelcean lands on the Peace Bridge, and she's pretty pleased. She says she took her grad photos by the iconic red span. 

"I think there has been a lot of negativity in the city lately," Custelcean said. "Just kind of reminding people what we have, like all the monuments, architecture, and just have people embrace Calgary, the city as a whole."

She adds a trending filter is a great way to do that, and bring people together online.

  • Watch CBC Calgary's hosts take a crack at the new filter.

Creating a sense of pride

Nancy Smith is the marketing supervisor for the City of Calgary communications team.

"For citizens, you know, right now is maybe not always a positive time, and on social media, especially, people can skew quite negative," said Smith. "It's creating a sense of pride of place, and a little bit of fun.… I would argue that it was absolutely worth the couple of hours that it took us to do."

Online, some were quick to clap back at the city for its latest project. Some were concerned about how much the filters cost. 

Filter made in-house

But Smith says the filter was free to develop, with the staff already on hand and some tools online. 

"We have been working on actually all of our social platforms trying to connect better with citizens every day," she said. "Both useful information that, you know, helps them with making decisions, whether it's about how to recycle properly or what roads are closed."

Some of the online responses on Twitter were buried from view by the city. Smith says it's policy to hide content online that doesn't fit the city's community guidelines protocol — which, she said, includes provisions for offensive or vulgar language.

CBC News screen-captured those responses. Some think the project is a waste of money.

A screen capture shows what kinds of responses the City of Calgary is hiding. (Screen capture/Twitter)

"We don't hide differing opinions, we feel that everybody has an opinion," Smith said. "And that's why you see there are some people who don't agree with what we did. And they're certainly entitled to that opinion."


Helen Pike


Helen Pike joined CBC Calgary as a multimedia reporter in 2018 after spending four years working as a print journalist with a focus on municipal issues. You can find her on Twitter @helenipike.