Twitter or Facebook: Is online social interaction beneficial as we age?

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By Leslie Martinez Luevanos

Twitter and Facebook are two very commonly used apps in this common age. Used to communicate with other individuals on a day-to-day basis or to share with others the events and moments that are currently occurring in one’s life. Whether it is used to communicate, or share a moment with you friends/followers, Twitter and Facebook have become the leading apps to many individuals.

Twitter is a social networking and microblogging service that allows users to tell their followers what they are doing in 140 characters in length, called “tweets”.  Individuals can use twitter to just tweet about their thoughts and what they are up to, as well as directly message with their followers. Twitter can be used to keep in touch with friends and broadcast information, through tweets, photos, videos and hashtags. However, it has to stay in that 140-character limit, in order to be shared with others.

On the other hand, Facebook is a social networking site that makes it easy for users to connect and share with their family and friends online. Facebook allows users to send messages and post statuses in order to keep in touch with their friends and family. Photos, videos and links can be shared on Facebook for the public to see. Users are also able to play games, chat live, and stream live video.

Both Facebook and Twitter are commonly used as a tool to communicate within younger adults. Facebook and Twitter can be of interest to older adults due to the communication and networking that it can provide to the individuals that use it. In the article “Cognitive Benefits of Online Social Networking for Healthy Older Adults”, Janelle et al. mentions that one role that can significantly maintain or improve cognitive function in older adults is social interaction (2016).

As older adults begin to age, they also begin to lose the relationships that they had. This can be due to frequent deaths, less interest in similar things, health issues, etc. This is where isolation and lack of social interactions comes into play with older adults. In order to not feel isolated and have that social interaction with others, older adults may want to use a platform, such as Facebook or Twitter to have that social interaction with others. Social networking can also help older adults’ cognitive function. In the study conducted by Janelle et al., researchers aimed to study the efficacy of online social network in order to maintain or enhance cognitive function in older adults (2016). When it comes to adolescents and young adults, those who used Facebook for longer than one year had higher working memory and verbal abilities than those adolescences and young adults that have been using Facebook for less time. For that reason, Janelle et al., studied older adults and their use on Facebook in relation to cognitive function. The participants used Facebook continually for six weeks. What researchers found was that there was a maintenance of information in the working memory for older adults who used Facebook.

Janelle et al.’s study found that older adults who use Facebook had an improved cognitive function. Relating this back to social interaction, individuals that have a great cognitive function can have great relationships and will able to seek that interaction with others. This can then lead older adults to want to use different forms of mediums to connect and interact with others. Older adults may want to use Facebook in order to find old friends and connect with them through messages or items that they have shared. They may also want to use Facebook to chat live with their friends and record their daily activities with them. Older adults may want to use Twitter in order to directly message with their friends and share with them photos and tweets about their day and thoughts. Facebook and Twitter can really help older adults enhance their online social interaction and keep their relationships intact, despite their age and stereotypes that are put in place for them.

However, there may be obstacles for older adults when it comes to using these social media apps. For starters, older adults may not have direct access to a smartphone, let alone Facebook or Twitter. Facebook and Twitter can be accessed through a computer or a smartphone by downloading the Facebook or Twitter app. Older adults do not have much experience with smartphones and accessing these social medias will really be a great struggle and obstacle for them.

Older adults already have less trust in the internet, especially when it comes to health information.  (Paige et al., 2017). When it comes to trusting online heath information, there is a need for positive levels of ease in accessing, locating, and understanding the information that is being shared. This can lead to the mistrust that older adults exhibit with the internet. Paige et al. conducted a study where the researchers aimed to study and “understand the relationship between eHealth literacy and trust in online health information sources and communication channels based on diverse sociodemographic characteristics” (2017). The hypothesis that Paige et al. intended to investigate was that if the relationship between eHealth literacy and perceived trust in online health information will be moderated by sociodemographic characteristics. The respondents in this study were 18 to 84 years old. These respondents reported using Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Pinterest, and blogs to locate and share their health information. Facebook, being used 55.6%, was the most used medium for older adults. Overall, adults 50 years or older were less likely than younger adults to have high perceived trust in Twitter, Pinterest and Youtube, but a higher trust in Facebook when it comes to health information. This could be because there are more benefits to the using Facebook, especially when it comes to older adults.

Facebook is easier to access and more information can be shared through Facebook, as opposed to Twitter where it is limited to only 140 characters. Older adults may find it easier to access Facebook and use it as their main social media. This then leads to older not trusting twitter, while trusting Facebook with health information, and possibly just in general.

Facebook and Twitter are the go to social media apps for young adults. Older adults are slowly starting to use these social medias more, as one can see that there are more older adults with Facebook profiles and shares. These social medias can each be optimized for seniors. Facebook can be optimized by making the app more mobile and easier for older adults to use. For example, a smartphone is hard to navigate for seniors, and having an app that has similar functions as the smartphone can be a great obstacle. The text may be too small for most seniors to read. Easier access to the app with less buttons and features on the homepage can help seniors access Facebook better and use it more.

Twitter can be optimized by increasing the character count for each tweet. When older adults share their thoughts or memories, they often like to reflect and write them down in more 140 characters. Having a restricted character count can jeopardize the older adults not using Twitter as the app for social interaction. Having a limit on the characters that can be used can cause the older adults to feel as though their thoughts are limited and they will not be able to share all that they wish to share in such a limited character count.

Overall, social media is becoming more used as the years go by. Facebook and Twitter are one of the most commonly used social media apps/websites used to interact with others. Older adults are slowly starting these mediums to improve their relationship and not feel so isolated. With some minor optimizations, Facebook and Twitter can be the ideal mediums for older adults to improve their social interactions.

References

Janelle W. Myhre, Matthias R. Mehl, Elizabeth L. Glisky. (2016). Cognitive Benefits of Online Social Networking for Healthy Older Adults. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci 2016 gbw025. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbw025

Paige, R., Krieger, L., & Stellefson, L. (2017). The Influence of eHealth Literacy on Perceived Trust in Online Health Communication Channels and Sources. Journal of Health Communication22(1), 53–65.

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