While social media is second nature to millions of Americans, many seniors are still learning the basics of popular Web sites such as Facebook, Skype and Twitter. However, older adults are the fastest growing segment of the online community, said the North Shore Senior Center’s George Lowman at the 15th Annual Aging Well Conference in Evanston, IL.
“Social media is a brain game, it keeps seniors connected,” said Lowman, who built his first computer while in high school during the 1950s. Now, some 20 million Americans 65 and older are “online,” and 10 million seniors use social media.
Lowman spent much of his presentation warning seniors about the dangers of social media. “Seniors grew up in a world that was very private. They did not share information the way their grandkids do,” said Lowman. He suggests careful consideration of privacy agreements on sites such as Facebook and Google, because they mine personal data from users to sell targeted ads.
“Unfortunately, you will be hacked. It is not if, you will,” said Lowman. While seniors should not be afraid of social media, “since it’s not contagious,” seniors should be aware of scams and never give out their online passwords to “friends” over the Web.
Sometimes Lowman’s lecture seemed like a high school assembly. “Always remember that if you take a picture with a drink in your hand, it will end up on Facebook. Put down the drink,” Lowman told more than a dozen seniors. “Think of what your religious leaders and friends would think of your pictures.” The audience dutifully took notes.
Overall, the benefits from social media outweigh the risks, Lowman argued, since it is an easy and fun way to interact with grandkids, nieces and nephews who now view letters, phone calls and even email as “outdated.”