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Social Media Etiquette for Seniors

Kimberly Fowler
By Kimberly FowlerApril 17, 2017

It might drive you crazy when your aging parent writes a status update with the CAPS LOCK ON, or tags themselves in your Facebook post when they are obviously not in the photo – but truth be told these small annoyances are a small price to pay.

The benefits of being online and involved in social media are huge for seniors and include happiness, lower rates of depression, a feeling of connectedness and an ability to stay in touch with friends and family.

Social Media Use Among Seniors

According to recent Pew Research, 48% of online adults aged 65 or older are using Facebook and 22% of online adults aged 50 and older are using Pinterest. The same study showed that a small percentage of the online adults aged 65 and older are using Instagram (4%), LinkedIn (12%), and Twitter (6%).

What are older adults doing online? They’re using social media platforms to:

  • Reconnect with long lost friends and relatives
  • Stay in touch with children and grandchildren
  • Talk to family and friends who live far away
  • Find new hobbies and learn about new interests
  • Talk to like-minded people
  • See and share pictures of their children and grandchildren.

5 Rules of Social Media Etiquette

Although most of these older adults have been able to figure out social media, the intricacies of social media etiquette may not be so apparent, but with that being said, age itself is no guarantee of proper online behavior. People of all ages have made online faux-pas, and some mistakes have been more serious (and even dangerous) than others. For the sake of safety and manners, it’s a good idea to follow these general social media rules of etiquette, no matter your age.

1. Don’t Overshare

For security purposes it’s important that you don’t share any personal information like your full name, birthday, address, etc… Most sites will ask for this information when you sign up, but you can set privacy settings so that only your friends can see this information (so they can wish you happy birthday, for example). Or, you can lock down your privacy settings altogether so that no one can access these personal details.

It’s important to never share information like your social security number and bank account information online.

Also, don’t announce on social media platforms the details of your upcoming vacation (or that you’re on vacation). Many thieves will scan social sites for this information when choosing which houses to target. There is plenty of time to share this information when you’re back from your trip.

It’s also important to not share information about other people – especially your children and grandchildren, who are sadly often targets of online predators. Don’t share details about their name, age, school, address, etc.

Be mindful not to share other people’s exciting news like an engagement, pregnancy or job change until that person has given you the okay to do so. Sharing this information prematurely can be upsetting to some (especially if they haven’t had the opportunity to share their own news yet) and can even put those you love in an awkward situation (say, for example, a colleague sees your post about you granddaughter’s pregnancy and it somehow puts her job in jeopardy). This sort of news is exciting, but be mindful of when and who you share it.

2. Sharing Photos

Don’t re-post someone else’s photo. Even if they shared the photo with their social group, they may not be comfortable with strangers seeing it (the people on your social group are strangers to them). This is especially true with pictures of children. Photos of children can be seen by the wrong people if the photo is posted and re-posted, so you could be inadvertently putting the ones you love most at risk.

It’s also proper etiquette to ask before you post pictures that you take of other people. Keep in mind that some people might not be confident of their appearance, or may not want pictures of themselves or their family posted online. Whether their reasoning is serious (they’re dealing with a cyber stalker or messy divorce) or frivolous (they might not have a reason), this is their choice. The best thing to do is to ask before you post.

When it comes to photos, another online mistake that many people make is sharing photos and images for which they don’t hold the rights. In the worst-case scenario, sharing a photo without having rights to that photo can lead to copyright infringement and subsequent legal actions. With that being said, millions of photos are being shared online daily, so this isn’t a worry that should keep you up at night. Still, for photographers who make their living from their photos, accidentally sharing something to which you don’t have the right to share can impact their livelihood, so it’s a factor to consider before you post a photo or image that you find online.

3. Comment Carefully

The age old adage of not discussing religion and politics with friends is often lost when online, but it’s still an area in which to tread carefully. Also be careful about commenting on people’s clothes, appearance or lifestyle choices in a way that could be taken negatively. Although it’s tempting to speak your mind freely in comments, think first about what you say and how it will be perceived. You wouldn’t want to offend a friend or family member and you also need to consider that your comments will paint a picture of who you are to people who don’t know you.

Keep in mind that jumping into a conversation between a child or grandchild and their friend with a comment of your own is not likely to bode well for your relationship. Not only can commenting in this way seem intrusive, it may also be embarrassing for your child or grandchild (especially if they’re a teenager).

4. Keep Your Circle of Friends Close

Even if you’ve met your child or grandchild’s friend, it doesn’t mean that you should invite them to be friends with you on social media. For security and privacy reasons, it’s best to invite and accept friendships from people who are actually your friends and family. Remember, it’s more meaningful to have a close circle of friends that you care about and interact with than a large number of followers who you don’t know (and who don’t know you).

5. Finer Points of Internet Etiquette

You may or may not know that:

  • Writing with CAPS LOCK ON means you’re yelling at someone.
  • Emoji’s (small pictures that express an emotion) are used to show how you’re feeling and can replace words. But if you misuse or overuse them your meaning can be confusing, lost or misinterpreted.
  • Hashtags (a # symbol) are used to categorize and tag pictures and posts so that they can be found again. Misusing or overusing them can be annoying and can make future searches difficult.
  • Tagging someone in a picture (or a post about an event) should only be done when the person is actually in the picture or at the event you’re discussing – and again, don’t overshare information. Make sure the person will be okay with being tagged first.

Benefits of Getting Online Outweigh Etiquette Rules

The ins and outs of social media etiquette can be tricky and intimidating to some older adults, so although it’s good to keep these etiquette points in mind, don’t let etiquette keep you off of social media. The benefits of being online make it worth taking the plunge. Remember, most of us learn this etiquette through trial and error, and from some friendly advice from friends and family.

What social media channels do you or your elderly parent use the most? Share your thoughts on social media use and seniors with us in the comments below. 

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Kimberly Fowler
Kimberly Fowler
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