Maintaining your social connections can support your overall mental and physical wellbeing ̶ but with the risk of increased social isolation during COVID-19, you or your loved ones may find yourselves reimagining how to stay connected under Safer at Home ordinances. Social media provides ways to stay safely engaged with your community and creates opportunities to explore other interests, both new and old.
Why Use Social Media?
A lesser-known benefit of social media among older adults is its potential for improving one’s brain health. A study conducted by the University of Illinois at Chicago showed that older adults who learn to engage with technology have seen improvement in multiple aspects of cognitive function (Quinn, 2018). This study concluded that learning to use social media provides a valuable opportunity to engage with technology, giving continuous opportunities for learning and mental stimulation.
Although social media platforms are often associated with younger generations, plenty of older adults have turned to social media to keep in touch with their loved ones; stay up to date with events and organizations; and reconnect with past acquaintances. There are a variety of platforms to choose from, depending on your desired activities.
Overview of Social Media Platforms
Social media is defined as “forms of electronic communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (such as videos)” (Merriam Webster, n.d.). Most of the popular platforms, including the four explored in this fact sheet, are all free to use. Here are the some of the most common platforms used today:
Facebook was one of the first mainstream social media platforms, and remains among the most popular today. The platform has a diverse set of features designed for you to connect with others. Users can make “posts,” which are words, pictures, or other media that others can see or interact with. Most commonly, Facebook allows you to share posts for your Facebook friends to see, while allowing you to “like” and comment on what your friends post. Other uses include private message chats, joining groups based on common interests, and keeping up with news from organizations like churches, community centers, and local restaurants.
- Facebook allows for a wide range of activities on the platform, whether it be in the kind of content you share, the groups you join, or the way you customize your own profile. You can pick and choose what you decide to use out of all the possible features, but because of the variety of features and the consistent stream of new, diverse content, you always have plenty of options to learn something new.
- There is a lot of freedom in choosing what to share. You can post words, photos, websites, videos, and more – and unlike Twitter or Instagram, there isn’t a strict word limit for a post.
- You are likely to find many of your friends, families, and loved ones already using Facebook. Facebook is the most popular social media platform for all age groups, but especially older adults. A 2019 Pew Research study reported that Facebook is used by 68% of adults between the ages of 50 and 64, and 46 %of adults who are 65 or older (Perrin & Anderson, 2019). Once you add a few friends, you’ll likely be able to find more that you’re both connected to.
- Facebook is a common target for scammers and hackers, who either try to log in to your account or pretend to be someone else to trick you into giving them your money or personal information.
- The platform uses frequent advertisements, which many users find distracting. Some of these advertisements can contain news from unreliable sources.
- The variety of uses means it might take a little longer to learn how to navigate Facebook. Facebook also updates the features of its website and app more frequently than other platforms, so sometimes you may have to re-learn some functions when Facebook has an update.
Pinterest is a social media platform where users can browse collections of images to find inspiration for their interests and hobbies. 27% of older adults between the ages of 50 and 64 use Pinterest, making it another one of the most popular platforms among older generations (Perrin & Anderson, 2019). Most images on Pinterest are linked to a more detailed source or shopping page, making the platform easy for sharing resources. You can search a vast collection of topics and “pin,” or bookmark, images that you like within your personal “Pinterest boards,” or collections. When you connect with friends on Pinterest, you can also see what others have bookmarked. Common topics on Pinterest are cooking, crafts, and fashion; however, you can search Pinterest for almost any interest. For example, if you are looking for knitting ideas, a search for “knitting” on Pinterest will show you images and boards related to that topic.
- Since Pinterest is mostly image-based, the platform is visually appealing and helpful for users who have trouble reading text on their devices.
- Pinterest’s narrower focus on hobby and interest-based images makes it fairly easy to learn and navigate, in comparison to other platforms with more diverse functions like Facebook and Twitter.
- Pinterest is designed for you to share and discover new resources and inspiration; however, it is not as useful for direct communication and personal posts to connect with others.
- Pinterest is often marketed towards women, so people of other genders might not feel like the platform is geared towards them.
Twitter and Instagram
Instagram and Twitter are two other options for social media platforms, although they are currently less popular among older adults (Perrin & Anderson, 2019). However, they are also options for connecting with loved ones, especially if you prefer consuming content in smaller doses. While Facebook users connect through “friending” each other, both Instagram and Twitter use the “follow” feature. When you follow someone, their posts will be added to the mix you see on your Homepage (which is similar to Facebook’s newsfeed). They will only see your posts if they follow you back. In this way, many people follow celebrities, news sources, and organizations to see what they share, in addition to following and being followed by their loved ones.
- Instagram is an image-based platform that lets users share photos and captions with one another. It is similar to Facebook in that it allows users to connect through sharing posts and messaging; however, the platform is limited to sharing photos and videos only. Instagram also has messaging options where you can send posts to people you know or comment their username (known as “tagging” a person) under a post you think they would enjoy.
- Twitter focuses on brief, 280-character posts (also known as “tweets”) that you can share with followers. You can also repost, or “retweet” others’ tweets on your own profile. The user experience mainly consists of engaging with what others have tweeted or retweeted, sometimes adding personal commentary. Many people like to use Twitter to follow celebrities and news organizations, in addition to their friends and family. In fact, 71% of Twitter users say they use the platform to receive news (Aslam, 2020). The platform keeps track of what the most talked-about topics are each day, allowing users to keep up with trending subjects.
Tips on Getting Started
- All the social media platforms in this fact sheet are accessible through your computer, tablet, or phone. We recommend that when setting up your account, however, you use a computer.
- You can download a mobile app version of any social media platform through the App Store or Google Play.
- Customizing profiles by adding photos, sharing interests, and writing posts helps older adults feel a higher sense of community on social media (Jung & Sundar, 2018). However, do not feel pressured to do everything ̶ you decide your level of involvement, and you can choose to share as much or as little as you want on your personal profiles.
- Seek out help if you do not understand the various functions of each platform. Studies have shown that finding guidance on how to effectively use social media will enhance the overall experience (Quinn, 2018). Most platforms have thorough “help” sections; alternatively, a quick internet search of “how do I do ____ on Facebook/Pinterest?” should provide you with plenty of answers. Whatever question you may have, it has likely been asked by many others.
- Not all content on social media comes from authentic sources. If you want to repost an article, check its source first ̶ if it seems suspicious, it might be better to ignore the post and carry on.
- Just like socializing in-person, be mindful of what you say to others. Sometimes in an online disagreement, it’s easy to forget that there’s another person on the other side of the screen. Additionally, remember that when you post something on the internet, it can live on for years. Remember to prioritize kindness and understanding!
Security Tips (AARP, 2019)
Older adults are often the target of internet scams. You can help protect yourself against scams on social media by following a few rules of thumb:
- Passwords: Use a different password for each account you use. You can write down your usernames and passwords in case you forget them; however, make sure to store them in a safe, hidden location.
- For another layer of security to your login information, consider looking into two-factor authentication, which verifies your identity through a text message or a separate app on your device.
- Privacy Settings: Set your account settings to limit access to people you know (ID-Wise, n.d.). Keep in mind that even with private settings, whatever you post may still be accessed by hackers in the future. You should always be careful about the information you share.
- On Facebook, your name and profile photo will always be public. However, you can limit the rest of your posts and information to your friends by going to “Settings” from the drop-down menu on the top right of the screen, then clicking “Privacy,” and choosing for your account information and future posts to be viewable by friends only.
- To keep your Pinterest account from being discoverable through internet searches, go to “Settings” and change “Search Privacy” to “yes.” You can also choose to use “secret boards,” which will be hidden from public view.
- To make your Instagram posts private, select “Edit Your Profile” on your profile page and switch “Posts are Private” to “on.” For both Instagram and Twitter, making your posts private will require every potential follower to be approved by you before they can see what you share.
- To set your Twitter posts to private, select “Settings” from the drop-down menu on the top right of the home page, then select “Security and Privacy.” Under “Privacy,” select the box that says “Protect my tweets.”
- Links: Don’t click on suspicious links, including ads that offer major discounts or prizes, and suspicious-looking messages from friends. You can use a website checker like Google Safe Browsing, which will warn you if a link is risky.
- Safe sharing: Only engage with people and sources you trust on social media. If a stranger or an online quiz asks for personal information or money, block them and consider letting a loved one know. Even with your activity limited to friends, be vigilant about what you post. Do not post personal contact information, and do not share if you are traveling, as this can notify potential burglars of a vacant residence.
We challenge you to create an account for one of these social media platforms and reach out to a loved one you have not talked to in a while. Try something like sending a message over Facebook, sharing a Pinterest board, or retweeting a friend’s post. Whenever you are engaging on a social media platform, however, be mindful of your personal security. Take action to adjust your privacy settings, check the links you click on, and monitor what you share with whom.
Quinn, K. (2018). Cognitive Effects of Social Media Use: A Case of Older Adults. Social Media + Society, 4(3), 1-7. doi:10.1177/2056305118787203
Perrin, A., & Anderson, M. (2019, April 10). Share of U.S. adults using social media, including Facebook, is mostly unchanged since 2018. Retrieved June 24, 2020, from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/04/10/share-of-u-s-adults-using-social-media-including-facebook-is-mostly-unchanged-since-2018/
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Social media. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved July 6, 2020, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/social%20media
Jung, E. H., & Sundar, S. S. (2018). Status update: Gratifications derived from Facebook affordances by older adults. New Media & Society, 20(11), 4135-4154. doi:10.1177/1461444818768090
ID-Wise. n.d. How to Manage Your Social Media Privacy Settings. Retrieved June 29, 2020, from https://identity.utexas.edu/everyone/how-to-manage-your-social-media-privacy-settings
Chin, C (2018). How to Secure Your Accounts with Better Two-Factor Authentication. Retrieved June 29, 2020, from https://www.wired.com/story/two-factor-authentication-apps-authy-google-authenticator/
Aslam, S. (2020). Twitter By the Numbers: Stats, Demographics, & Fun Facts. Retrieved June 29, 2020, from https://www.omnicoreagency.com/twitter-statistics/
AARP. (2019, June 17). Watch Out for Social Media Scams and Protect Your Data. Retrieved June 25, 2020, from https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2019/social-media.html