Do you use social media? Facebook allows me to connect with friends and follow posts like Hogans Adventures and View from My Window. YouTube provides me with documentaries on every topic imaginable. Now, I’m watching a series on abandoned cities. LinkedIn connects me with professional colleagues, and Nextdoor tells me what’s happening in my neighborhood. There are so many possibilities. It helps me age well!
Facebook was the first social network to surpass one billion registered accounts and has more than 2.89 billion monthly active users. What was once a website for Harvard’s student body has rapidly become an internet phenomenon changing how people interact.
Social media allows users to create networks or relationships with people who share similar interests and real-life connections. It lets them more easily face life’s difficulties and deal with emotional isolation – when used wisely.
Fifteen years ago, few predicted that people of all ages would use these sites. However, a 2021study conducted by the Pew Research Center looked at the percentages of people using eleven online social media platforms and found the following:
There are six primary social media outlets.
Social Networks allow people from similar backgrounds or similar interests to connect online. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are currently the top three social network platforms.
Social News allows users to post news links to external sites, on which other users can then vote submissions up or down in a way that affects overall exposure. Reddit is an example of a social news platform that has weathered the ages.
Microblogging allows users to post short written entries, links to product and service sites, and other social media platforms. The most well-known microblogging platform is Twitter, with more than 321 million monthly active users.
Bookmarking Sites are used to save and organize links from the Internet’s abundance of online resources and websites. They typically allow users to categorize these links, sharing with specific followers easily. Pinterest is an example of a bookmarking site with more than 300 million active monthly users.
Media Sharing allows users to share a range of media. Images and video dominate these sites in practice. YouTube has been one of the world’s most well-known media-sharing platforms.
Community Blogs allow communicators to reach audiences easily. Medium and Tumblr are micro-blogging platforms designed for sharing multimedia and short-form blogging. I write articles on Substack, which is similar to Medium.
As you can see, possibilities abound, but so do pitfalls. Let’s look at them.
People use social media platforms to share links, videos, and photos. During the “pandemic years,” they remain a lifesaver for several reasons.
Generally speaking, everyone can participate. Twitter users can communicate quickly and share links to various resources with people they will never meet.
Skype lets people share their lives with friends and family. Instagram allows them to share pictures of their children, grandchildren, and friends. Over the past two years, these sites have been such an advantage as we remain relatively house-bound.
Social media helps reduce loneliness, isolation, and depression for many during this time. Using these venues satisfied a person’s social needs, acted as a motivator, and helped maintain mental health.
Sites automatically provide information that matches a user’s interests and topics. Pinterest is a site where people share links about new ideas they find interesting. Etsy is a resource for those who want to buy and sell handmade items.
Viewers can watch Youtube on every subject imaginable. Udemy and Wondrium provide numerous learning and entertainment possibilities. I am a lifetime learner, and these sites are among my favorites.
I love to read about older adults who are adding to social media. The “grandfluencers” in this video seem to be aging well. Take a look!
Typically, people are healthy if they have no disease or sickness. Yet, being healthy is much more. Good health includes complete physical, mental, and social well-being.
In 2013, studies found that older adults who use social media sites gained many positive experiences as they engaged in constructive activities and self-education. They stayed updated with the latest news and trends and were less likely to “veg out.” There may be fewer cases of depression and other cognitive illnesses. Studies also report that people who use those sites had lower blood pressure and blood sugar than those who did not.
Regularly playing video games has been shown to improve or enhance visual-motor tracking, selective attention, and memory challenges. A key finding: don’t play the same games, but learn new ones to gain the most benefits. Additional benefits include improved decision-making and hand-eye coordination.
As you see, there are numerous possibilities for people to age well using social media; but there are pitfalls.
The primary pitfall is the Internet itself. The Internet provides a powerful and general capability that depends on information and is accessible by individuals who connect to networks.
It supports human communication via social media, email, “chat rooms,” newsgroups, audio and video transmission, and allows people to work collaboratively at many different locations.
In January of 2021, though, the Older Adults Technology Services from AARP (OATS), estimated that approximately 40% of older adults were unable to access needed online services from their homes during the pandemic.
Access to technology is not equal for all groups. Even if people can access online services, many can’t afford a computer much less pay for Internet service. Even if they can access online services and afford the cost, they don’t know how to use the computer. Keeping up takes effort.
A potential impact of using these sites is addiction. Physical activity should not be ignored, as even the older and less mobile need to move around to maintain normal health. Obsession with the Internet poses a threat - cutting back on opportunities to be physically active when folks are so involved with televisions and devices.
Fraud, Scams, and Phishing
Identity thieves, scammers, and potential abusers target Internet users. Criminals know that older people tend to be more polite and trusting. They are also more likely to be deceived by an urgent-sounding message or a seemingly friendly contact. Scams are discussed in the previous article, Watch Out Scams Ahead and Don’t Be Fooled.
Globally, internet fraud is one of the most committed crimes. Even among program users, it’s widespread. Protecting the elderly from fraudsters is not a priority that exposes them to further victimization.
Scam artists use a variety of programs, techniques, and devices to commit fraud on unsuspecting people. This truth requires everyone to remain conscientious and safeguard private information. Online fraud victims can lose their life savings if convinced to give up their money - all of which can cause mental unrest, stress, and other psychological issues.
Users are unaware of the privacy and licensing conditions on sites and unintentionally give access to malicious people, making them vulnerable to cyber-crime.
My husband had dementia. We blocked his computer use, fearing that he would give out private information. An even bigger problem was his cell phone, and we monitored all his calls after he agreed to a service we didn’t need or want.
Typically, the focus on cyber-bullying is among children and teens, but adults are also affected.
The most common forms are:
Emotional abuse with rage, threats, accusations, and belittling comments, often followed by periods of silence or ignoring the victim.
Financial abuse involves obtaining a victim’s account information, setting up online access to their accounts, and stealing their money.
Speaking out against cyber-bullying can be particularly difficult for some. Many people may not know what it means. Victims feel violated and powerless, confused and in denial over what’s happening. They often feel shame and self-blame for being a victim and fear more bullying or being ignored if they speak out.
Wikipedia defines fake news as
misleading information presented as news in an effort to damage a person’s reputation or make money through advertising revenue.
However, the term does not have a fixed definition, and is used more broadly to include false information, including unintentional and unconscious mechanisms. High-profile individuals apply the phrase to any news unfavorable to their perspectives.
The Senior Tech Center website notes “The use of social media in the 2016 election is a good example of how to spread false information and potentially share private information.” People tend to believe the fake news and share it.
According to a study published in the journal Science Advances, 11 percent of people aged 65 and older shared fake news on Facebook during the 2016 presidential election, 3 percent of people aged 18 to 29 shared falsities. More older people shared fake news than those aged 45 to 65.
To enjoy the possibilities these sites provide, one must be aware of the pitfalls.
Numerous websites discuss ways to protect from the pitfalls of social media. Here are three that I liked. Take a look.
Take Home Point
Social media offers numerous possibilities for everyone who wishes to age well – if and when they know how to use the platform and are aware of the pitfalls involved.