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An Outsider Looks At Social Media

Well, not a true outsider. I do have a Satisfying Retirement and personal Facebook page and a Twitter account. Primarily, I use them to promote this blog. I will comment on someone else's postings if I feel particularly engaged by something, but not very often. I don't use LinkedIn or Pinterest. I have heard of Snapchat but know nothing about it. Instagram is not part of my life. Even Google Plus isn't on my radar. So, compared to a lot of folks I am a low level social media participant. 

Interestingly, the demographic with the largest growth in Internet use over the past half dozen years are those in the 65+ age group. Daily Internet use jumped 71%, with an accompanying 34% increase in the use of social media. 

Staying in touch with family, relatives, or reconnecting with friends are key motivators. Social media can help reduce feelings of isolation or being out of step in a world that is increasingly technological in orientation. Recently, I was contacted about my 50th High School Reunion by someone who tracked me down on Facebook. Twitter is being used to keep up with the topics folks are talking about. Discussion groups and finding others who share opinions and struggles can be empowering. 

I fully support that type of involvement. When its use helps lessen feelings of loneliness or allows someone to connect with others who share concerns and beliefs, social media can be a powerful tool for good. Learning to use a computer and navigate the Internet helps keep an aging mind active and open.

But, with that new world come risks and dangers. A week or so ago I wrote about the malware epidemic. One of the targets that hackers love is social media.  Clicking on a link that seems interesting or going to another site to look at a fascinating video can lead to computer infection. Stealing someone's identity or taking over another's Twitter or Facebook account is a rather common occurrence.

Actually, I have had both my Twitter and Facebook accounts hacked. In each instance someone started sending out spam and dangerous links to those in my on-line "friends.". Luckily, I was notified quickly that I appeared to be sending out odd information. 

Another recent development is the problem of fake news on Facebook and other sites. These legitimate-looking articles contain "news" stories that have little or no truth in them. They are designed to promote a particular point of view, to deceive readers, or to prompt action based on fabrications. I must admit I have clicked on several stories that seemed to be legitimate, but on closer examination, were not.

Social Media can be anonymous. The name chosen to represent someone is usually not the person's real name. Even a picture may be of someone else. With that comes a problem. It is too easy to hide behind a made-up name and spew hate or slurs with impunity.

Though we tend to think of younger folks as the ones using social media to settle scores or degrade someone, I doubt if age is a reliable test. During the last election season, Twitter, Facebook, and I assume other sites, were positively toxic at times and it seemed clear that many of the participants were from our age group.

Even if you'd never consider sending messages like that, just reading them can be upsetting and depressing. It is vital that we steer clear of reading things that are designed to add stress to our lives or cause us to react in a negative way.

Social Media has been a tremendous tool for good. If used responsibly these outlets keep us connected, informed, and entertained. Like almost anything else, if used recklessly or without common sense, there can be serious problems. 

User beware.


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