When social media first reached prominence in the early 2000s with the creation of MySpace and Facebook, it was believed by many that it would be exclusively used by the younger generation. However, as social media sites rose and fell in popularity with the younger generation seeking out the newest platforms, one thing remained consistent· Specific networks like Facebook actual saw an increase in activity as time went on, and it was not from the targeted millennial age group, instead, it came from the boomers.
With increased activity, far beyond what anyone would have expected in social media networking, many have questioned whether is social media is beneficial to senior citizens?
When confronting the idea of if social media is beneficial for senior citizens, it’s important to understand the positive and negative effects social media offers, and how these factors relate to the newfound older demographic. At its core, Social media provides a platform for people to satisfy these fundamental social drives.
According to the article, The Emerging Neuroscience of Social Media, social media “specifically allows us to connect with others and groom our reputation via at least five key behaviors: (i) users broadcast information (e.g., text, pictures, links, videos, etc.). Users can share information that is personal (e.g., vacation photos), or they can propagate information that is not self-referential in nature (e.g., posting an article about top vacation spots); and (ii) users receive feedback on broadcasted information. (iii) users observe information broadcast by others, and (iv) users provide feedback on others’ posts.
” (Meshi, Tamir, Heekeren. 2015) Keeping this information in mind, one can now theorize why social media usage has become so popular with the elderly.
Firstly, social media allows families to keep close. “I wish I heard more often from my grandchildren” is a fairly customary phrase spoken by seniors, and with adolescents turning their attention to their devices and logging significant hours online via social media, seniors are adapting to the modern conventions and following where their family members are going, making it easier to link up and keep up to date with what is going on in the lives of loved ones. It also allows for more frequent and comfortable conversations between generations than most would experience simply through phone calls. Along a similar train of thought, family photo and video sharing have become incredibly easier and far more prevalent with today’s technology. With the overwhelming majority of photographs now digital, sharing is now easier than ever through social media. Increasingly, pictures are shared every day by users of Facebook and other social media sites, and grandparents can now go online and see the pictures taken mere moments before by their grandchildren.
Another important aspect is the peace of mind of knowing how your family is doing. Seniors often live far away from the rest of their families, which often leads to anxiety on both sides, particularly when the elder family members are living on their own. We have all heard stories of senior family members falling in their homes, missing critical prescription drugs, or going without eating for days, all without anyone knowing until it became a serious problem. Social media allows seniors and their family caregivers a convenient way to check in daily, or on whatever frequency is desired, creating peace of mind on both ends of the communications. The last major factor is the ability to engage in a community and a sense of belonging. The importance of socializing as part of a community cannot be overstated, particularly for seniors spending much of their time living isolated at home. It can be critical for those unable to get out of the house to be with others. Social media provides the opportunity to have and be a friend, to congregate without leaving the house, to never be alone, even when you are the only one in the house.
Alas, if one is going to discuss the positive side of the argument, it is only fair to draw attention to the negatives as well. While there seem to plenty of benefactors for seniors to be so actively engaged on social media, there is a fair share of the negatives as well. For instance, research from a recent Science Journal pointed out the correlation between the spreading of fake news articles and facebook users over the age of 65. An excerpt from the article reads, “Our most robust finding is that the oldest Americans, especially those over 65, were more likely to share fake news to their Facebook friends. This is true even when holding other characteristics including education, ideology, and partisanship constant. No other demographic characteristic seems to have a consistent effect on sharing fake news, making our age finding that much more notable.” (Guess, Nagler, Tucker. 2016) This is likely due in large to the fact that, on average, users over the age of 65 have less experience navigating online and are far more likely to fall susceptible to clickbait or ‘fake news’ and not necessarily knowing better, continue to share and publicize it. The statistics also show that on average users who are over 65 and identify as a part of the republican party or as an independent are more likely to share falsified content.
In conclusion, there is no denying there a multitude of beneficial reasons for seniors to engage online through the various social media platforms. There is no denying that Facebook has lost some of its popularity among youths, which is ironically consistent with how other social media sites have come and go with younger people, only to be replaced by another site that looks sleeker, has more features and the ability to post things quicker. But as teens and younger adults seek out these newer forms of social media, older adults seem to be using Facebook in increasing numbers, not only for social reasons but to keep up with familial connections, and also to discuss things like health issues or current ailments with online communities. In the end, regardless of a few drawbacks in relation to media savviness, and potentially blind faith in political powers, the factors seem to, at large benefit senior citizens greatly by offering them not only the ability to stay connected and serve as a part of a community but also can promote a healthier living, without causing harm to others.
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