Trustworthy data¬†‚ÄĒ in addition to ample anecdotal evidence¬†‚ÄĒ demonstrates that seniors have embraced social media. And it‚Äôs not just for entertainment.
Seniors taking to popular social media platforms continue to educate themselves and may even keep a hand in business. But, perhaps most importantly, they connect or reconnect with friends and family and stay civically engaged.
Connected And At Risk
This connectivity is crucial for seniors who may have a dwindling circle of support for reasons ranging from contemporaries who have passed away to mobility issues and more frequent illness or ongoing health concerns. (Pew Research Center seems to keep its finger on the pulse of the seniors-technology nexus, including this May 2017 study about tech adoption by older Americans.)
Still, the very aspects that make social media a godsend for seniors can also put them at particular risk and play into their greatest fears. Previously, online financial scams were probably the greatest risk to¬†internet-surfing seniors. The last few years have added a threat that may be just as great¬†‚ÄĒ or even greater: untrustworthy information.
Financial Scams, Financial Stress¬†
I‚Äôve spent the last 30 years helping create a highly regulated industry (the secondary market for life insurance) with a focus on protecting the elderly and terminally ill (the primary customers of that market), who are especially at risk for scammers.
What we‚Äôve observed is that fraudsters seem to outpace efforts to create transparency and greater online security. Major consumer and business media outlets continue to report on this, as do professional organizations like the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners and government agencies including the imperiled Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
For one, social platforms can provide a friendly or seemingly familiar cover for scammers. We hear from seniors daily regarding their financial fraud concerns, online and off. This is heightened by the financial stresses of retirement and aging.
Now the tremulous national financial climate adds more worry for seniors. We heard the national economic fears from seniors prior to the recent government shutdown, and I suspect we‚Äôll continue to hear them afterward. What they see online regarding financial news and options gives them no comfort.
A New Ingredient: Fake News¬†
This speaks to the aforementioned untrustworthy online information. Some seniors herald one news source while disparaging others. Many have general doubt about news. Others cite confusion between paid and free content or entertainment ‚Äúnews‚ÄĚ versus the real thing.
Whatever the case, ‚Äúfake news,‚ÄĚ real and perceived, has taken its toll, with The Washington Post reporting as recently as early January that seniors are unfortunately the most likely to reshare fake news, which likely indicates they believe the items they are sharing.
In addition to doubts about which news to believe, seniors we talk to also cite flagging confidence in once-trusted institutions, up to and including the White House. They wonder aloud about Russian interference in U.S. elections, especially that which may have included manipulation of online data and accounts. Seniors who had slowly come to trust online privacy and information are no longer quite so sure.
Window To The Future
The dual demons of potential financial risk and disbelief at info offered online can cause seniors to log off. I hear it from the seniors I talk to every day, though media reports seem to say even distrustful social media users are sticking with it.
Yes, logging off is a surefire way to avoid online scams and the slant of suspect streaming news, but it also closes an important outlet. One that, again, may be a lifeline for our beloved elders.
And staying connected is not just a feel-good benefit. Being connected means friends and loved ones have a window into the lives of seniors: Do they have what they need? Loneliness, especially as we age, has also been linked to mortality. We live longer if we stay connected. There‚Äôs a lot of data out there about this, but one report I particularly like is from¬†Harvard Medical School:¬†‚ÄúLiving Better, Living Longer.‚ÄĚ
What To Do
There are tutorials¬†‚ÄĒ online and through trusted (health care, aging and academic) organizations¬†‚ÄĒ that give users guidelines to best navigate the social media sphere while minimizing the risks of misinformation and financial snares. Seniors have been making good decisions on their own for years; helping them access programs like these can restore confidence in life online (just be cognizant of prejudices certain organizations may bring to their own trainings).
Some protections are built in but need to be activated, like privacy settings. Others are commonsensical and need to be reiterated, like not providing your birth year online or having a back-up channel to ensure a communication is real. So, you think Larry Junior is reaching out through Facebook? Agree to check with him via text, email or phone before engaging online.
And offline, fail-safe options may also provide online protection. For instance, if a trusted family member gets financial alerts when a senior makes a certain level transaction, crises can be averted with greater speed and dexterity. No doubt senior consumers are sometimes frustrated if they or a family member is ‚Äúpaused‚ÄĚ during their financial (or other business) dealings as these checks and balances are exercised, but we should all be thankful for the hiccups those protections bring.
However you accomplish it, take pains to keep seniors who are comfortable using social media connected. Their well-being depends on it, and their longevity may even be affected by it.