For many seniors, social networking sites are still terra incognita

Older people can benefit from having a social media account, which can allow them to stay in touch easier with family members or friends. — dpa

Older people can benefit from having a social media account, which can allow them to stay in touch easier with family members or friends. — dpa

While online social media use is almost as natural as eating and sleeping for most young people, older adults lag far behind.

About 98% of 14- to 29-year-olds are active on social media, according to a study by Berlin-based Bitkom Research, a market research and business consulting company. The figure for people over age 65 is 65%. Slightly more – 70% – use texting or instant messaging.

What's holding seniors back from greater immersion in social media?

Security concerns and access difficulties are two reasons, says Nicola Roehricht, an advisor on digitalisation and education for the German National Association of Senior Citizens' Organisations.

"A lot of older people are apprehensive and wonder whether they can manage it," she says, noting they often need help learning how to negotiate social media websites.

"On top of that, many don't see the sites' usefulness," she adds.

Experts, however, point to many benefits for seniors from the Internet in general, and social networking services in particular.

The sites can help them maintain contact with friends and far-flung family members, as well as make new friends, not to mention all the recreational and informational benefits – the ability to quickly research financial or health issues affecting them, for example.

Seniors lacking the confidence to sign up on a social networking site themselves can ask friends or family members for help. Senior citizen associations' computer groups can also provide assistance.

"Older people learn well from each other," says Roehricht, since they're familiar with the difficulties typical of their age group.

For social media newbies outside the Anglosphere, the prevalence of Anglicisms in computing terminology may be a problem, for instance.

While they're at it, seniors can also learn how to safely use the messaging apps and social networking sites. Various organisations and agencies offer tips on secure passwords and Internet connections.

There are a few other things that seniors – and teenagers too – need to be mindful of regarding social networking sites.

"When you register an account with an online service, if possible, you shouldn't provide all the personal information requested," says Esther Jontofsoh-Birnbaum, a legal expert at a consumer centre.

"As a rule of thumb, we advise consumers to consider – for each piece of information – whether they would shout it out on a bus," she says.

And if you get a "friend request" from someone who's already your friend, you shouldn't accept, she says, because "the friend's profile was probably copied".

So-called romance scammers pose a threat as well. They build trust via messages and calls to their target, then suddenly ask for money.

A further hazard on social media is fake news, which can spread very quickly online and isn't always immediately recognisable as bogus. It's a good idea to always be sceptical of what's on the Internet. – dpa