Using social networking sites such as Facebook could help encourage older adults interact with one another and feel more empowered and less isolated, according to new research.
Carried out by researchers from the National University of Singapore and Penn State University, USA, the new study looked at 202 participants aged 60 years and older who had been using Facebook for at least a year.
The researchers “friended” the participants on Facebook so they could analyze their profiles and count the number of times participants had used each of the site’s various features in the past year, such as posting status updates.
Participants were also asked to complete a questionnaire to collect data on the gratifications that they acquired from Facebook.
The researchers found that those who interacted more on Facebook obtained more gratification from the social media site, with those who posted more status updates and personal stories reporting a higher sense of community, while those who spent more time customizing their profiles reported feeling more in control.
Participating in conversations on comment threads was also found to be important in providing interaction gratification.
According to study co-author S. Shyam Sundar, the results suggest that social media cannot be thought of as either good or bad, but instead the multiple features available on different sites mean the experience can be different for each user.
“PEOPLE TEND TO THINK OF FACEBOOK AS A BLACK BOX THAT EITHER HAS AN OVERALL POSITIVE EFFECT OR A NEGATIVE EFFECT, BUT WHAT DISTINGUISHES THIS STUDY IS THAT IT MAKES AN EFFORT TO GO IN AND SEE WHAT PEOPLE DO IN FACEBOOK — AND THAT’S WHAT MATTERS,” SAID SUNDAR. “SO, IN OTHER WORDS, SOCIAL MEDIA, BY ITSELF, IS NEITHER GOOD, NOR BAD, BUT IT’S HOW YOU USE IT.”
Sundar added that for older adults, who may be less mobile, the features of social networking sites could be important, making them feel like they are part of a large community and therefore less lonely.
The team noted that according to Pew Research Center 34 percent of Americans aged 65 years and older used social networks in 2017, an increase of 7 percent from 2016, adding that Facebook is considered to be the most popular social network site among older adults.