By Lola Augustine Brown
For many older Canadians, social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram provide a lifeline that keeps them in contact with friends and family, offering a vital sense of connection they might not otherwise have. But there are a lot of seniors who don’t use Facebook, and many who actively dislike social media. According to researchers at Penn State, social media sites that want to attract active older users need to think about how to make them feel confident that their privacy is being protected.
In a very small-scale study, the results of which appear in the scholarly journal Telematics and Informatics, researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 46 people between the ages of 65 and 95 (the average age was 80.4) living in retirement homes who were all college graduates and used a computer every day about their feelings about Facebook.
While participants said they enjoy using the site to read updates and view pictures posted by friends and family, they don’t like to post their own material—one described him- or herself as a “Facebook voyeur”—and privacy concerns were cited as the main reason some seniors avoid the website.
The concern was less about sharing information than about the lack of control people felt they had over their personal information once it was shared and over how it might be used and by whom. Researchers suggested that this was likely due to a lack of understanding of the privacy tools provided by Facebook, adding that if the site wanted to attract more seniors, it could make accessing and using these controls more straightforward.
Another major reason seniors gave for not using Facebook was the perceived “triviality” of posts, saying they had no interest in “what [someone] had for lunch.”
A positive finding from the research was that Facebook acts as a bridge between older and younger generations, and most participants in the study said they had been encouraged to join the site by younger family members.