Odds are, you keep up with friends on Facebook and watch YouTube videos now and then. On Instagram, you may get a kick out of comedian Tom Green’s life on an Ottawa Valley farm or follow @charleythepotcakedog. And have you seen Zach King’s clips on TikTok? No wonder the creative whiz has 79.6 million followers. However you feel about one platform or another, there’s no doubt social media allows us to connect, keep abreast of the news and stay in touch with what’s happening.
Social media can also offer a new world of belonging for older adults who find it’s not so easy to mingle and meet people because of life or health circumstances. Not only can you reconnect with chums from your past, you can join diverse online communities and develop new social circles. While the downsides of online life run the gamut from phishing scams to the spread of misinformation, there are also times when people reveal their best selves.
One recent instance happened on Twitter. Just prior to the platform’s rebranding as X, people from this region discovered one of their connections was in need. The local resident was dying, out of money and about to be homeless. So the online community was galvanized, financial and practical support were provided and the person’s life ended with comfort, ease and an outpouring of friendship and generosity. That’s powerful. And, yes, it transpired on Elon Musk’s platform.
There are uplifting communities to be found across social media. There are also ways to navigate that help you stay safe and enjoy the social networking. Here are some pointers:
- Proceed with caution. Follow the steps at the Government of Canada’s website, getcybersafe.ca, to secure your accounts and devices. There’s excellent info for older adults about everything from avoiding scams to making wise choices.
- Stay mindful. Think before you post, click on a link, comment or send an email to someone you don’t know. The Golden Rule applies in digital interactions: Don’t say anything from your keyboard you wouldn’t utter face-to-face. At the same time, while it may be tempting to share photos on the first day of your vacation, be aware you’re revealing there’s probably nobody home at your house.
- Keep personal information private. Get to know the privacy settings of platforms you use, so you can control who sees what you post. Don’t accept friend requests from strangers and if a message, email or online connection seems suspicious, delete and block.
- Set limits. Prioritize your time and wellness. If you find you’re habitually scrolling or the feed and discourse on a site are troubling, disengage. And don’t forget to take regular social-media breaks.
- On some platforms you can follow and use hashtags—for instance #knitting or #pickleball or #ottawaphotographers—to follow your interests and connect with like-minded people. Whether you love quilting or cats, rock collecting or rock and roll music, there’s an online fit for you.