Older people have always tended to play a larger role in civic life, but today they are also more likely to be targets for misinformation and partisan rhetoric online.
While many older Americans have embraced technology and wield iPhones and iPads with aplomb, research shows that they are also more likely to fall victim to misinformation and be polarized by their online activity. Given the role they play in civic life and the demographic changes that will see this group expand, this is a cause for concern.
In the near future, Americans over 65 will constitute the largest age group in the country. Moreover, this demographic shift will prevail for decades to come. This age group, going online and joining Facebook en masse, nonetheless struggles with digital literacy and is targeted by those seeking to propagandize and feed them fake news as well as by miscreants hoping to steal their money through increasingly elaborate scams.
Since the 2016 election, funding for digital literacy programs has burgeoned but most of the initiatives are targeted toward younger Internet users. As a consequence, those who are most vulnerable are left to the mercy of those who target and exploit them.
Of particular concern is the fact that older people tend to be more politically active and vote consistently, as well as make political contributions. With more cash to deploy, they have great economic power and influence. The collective online voice of this demographic will be increasingly powerful, and yet this population is largely ignored.
Several recent studies found that older internet users are more likely to consume and share false news than are other groups, even when controlling for partisanship. In particular, older Americans tend to have only a vague understanding of how algorithms determine the kind of information they are shown. Studies show they also are worse at differentiating between fact and opinion and are less likely to take note of the brand of the site from which they consume news.
These habits combine with other characteristics, for example social isolation and loneliness, to magnify the impact of social media and how it melds with loneliness and a lack of digital literacy. Since this population is both growing and more likely to disseminate fake news, it is critical to understand the factors that impact how older adults engage with social media and online platforms.
Kevin Munger, a political scientist who studies the online habits of older Americans and the effect on politics, notes: “They’re alone, relatively wealthy, alienated, and stuck in places where they don’t know anybody and feel angry,” he said. “And they have access to the internet.”
Sounds like trouble brewing, doesn’t it? For more on this trend and what steps can be taken to improve the way older Americans interact with the Internet, please visit:
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Old, Online, And Fed On Lies: How An Aging Population Will Reshape The Internet | Buzzfeed