In a digitally-driven world where social media dominates the lives of so many people, many older adults remain “off the grid” because they are either fearful of the technology or worry about how to navigate social media sites like Facebook safely. With studies continually emerging about the mental health hazards of excessive screen time, one would think staying off the internet’s social circle would be a good thing. However, for the older generation, the absence of social media in their lives might not be the best medicine, and having an active status on Facebook, Instagram and other sites may result in better overall wellbeing.
Research goes back and forth on whether social media is a causative factor in emotional distress, loneliness or depression, but most studies have only looked at usage among younger people. In an analysis published in June 2019 in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Michigan State media professor Keith Hampton examined the effects of Facebook use on adults and found that 63 percent of social media users were less likely to experience depression and anxiety than those not using these sites. Hampton suggests the reason behind these findings is because “social media made it easier for them to stay in touch with extended family members and to access health information.”
Another study, published in 2016 in the Journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking found that in older adults, “greater technology use was associated with lower loneliness, better health, fewer chronic illnesses, and lower depression.” Researchers explain that in older people, using social media can increase feelings of support and remove the barrier of isolation that occurs when someone has difficulty with mobility, making them less likely to feel “alone in the world.”
Social media is an easy way to connect with long-distance family, reconnect old friendships and forge new bonds, keep the mind active in civic issues, and can inspire involvement in social groups or local events. However, fears hold some older people back from exploring this cyber-world, and in some cases, these fears are justified. Facebook profile hacking, security breaches and scams are all genuine threats that are all too familiar to those well-seasoned in the art of social media navigation. Before going “online,” there are a few essential safety tips that can ease those fears, and help you create your social media profile with confidence.
Not all friend requests are legitimate
— When the friend requests start flowing in, don’t feel obligated to accept every one of them. Use discernment when looking at the request and assess if you know this person personally or if you know them by association. Also, if you receive a request from someone that is already on your friends list, don’t accept it until you check with them first, as that is one indication that a person’s profile may have been “hacked.” In addition to this, learn how to use the blocking tool to eliminate suspicious people.
Learn privacy settings
— Social media sites have various settings to control who sees what you post, and who can contact you. Keep in mind that on most sites, your profile picture, and some information like your hometown can be viewed by the general public, so exercise caution when setting up your account. Also, use a strong password during account setup and remember to change it periodically.
Be a cautious mouse-clicker
— Scammers like tempting you with all sorts of promises and deals. Like in all aspects of life, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Also, be aware of suspicious messages that look like they are from friends. Scams exist where a message with an urgent warning like “I can’t believe this is you, look at this video I found” looks like it’s coming from someone you know, but, when you click on it, your account can be infiltrated by a virus or a hacker.
Keep your posts on a “need to know” basis
— Sharing pictures, and posting about things happening in your life is what social media is all about, but keep in mind, as soon as you hit the “post” button this information is out in cyberspace. On Facebook, you can choose who sees your posts, and even select individual friends by selecting from the options of public, friends, only me or custom. Also, remember to keep financial information or extremely personal details off social media. For example, although it’s tragic that “Jane” and “John Doe” are in a brutal child custody battle, commenting on Facebook about the details harms all that are involved.
Despite the fears that go with the social media world, it is apparent that if you are in your golden years, getting yourself on Facebook or similar sites may go a long way in bringing you more social enrichment and better overall quality of life.
Kimberly Drake can be reached at [email protected]