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Facebook, Privacy and Older Consumers

Leigh Ann Hubbard April 12, 2018

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress this week in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica privacy violation—a scandal that has heightened concerns about social media and prompted a #DeleteFacebook movement.

The uproar—and the surrounding (often ageist) response and media coverage—comes as older people are using Facebook in record numbers. Forty-one percent of people 65 and older are on the platform, according to the Pew Research Center. That’s up from 20 percent in 2012.

But there are a range of views on how vulnerable older people are to online-privacy pitfalls. It’s critical that we not underestimate the harm of online elder fraud, but some say seniors may be savvier in some ways than people who grew up with the technology. Or that they are vulnerable for unexpected reasons. Does your experience align with any of the stories below?

Headlines & Insights: Curated excerpts from though-provoking articles.

What Can Be Done About Facebook and Privacy?
Chicago / Adam Doster

There’s a big generational divide. Younger people adhere strongly to the belief that sharing information with one person does not mean sharing it with the whole world. They are used to having two Facebook accounts—one their parents see and one their parents don’t see—or managing their online persona so that there is one version of them that gets presented to prospective employers and another one that gets presented to their close friends. That’s something that strikes Millennials as completely obvious and intuitive.

Baby Boomers, at least in our data, are much less likely to believe that. I think Baby Boomers by and large believe that if it’s on the internet, everybody knows about it. And this kind of curation of their online identities that young people do is something that older people by and large just don’t get. [Quote from Privacy-law expert Lior Strahilevitz.]

Most Americans Feel They’ve Lost Control Of Their Online Data
NPR / Mary Louise Kelly

There’s a really interesting generational story that isn’t quite what the stereotype would have it. Yes, younger people are much more active online, much more forgiving of some of the circumstances when their data are captured and used in some ways to deliver products and services to them. But they’re also more vigilant than their elders in monitoring. They watch what’s posted about them, they watch what pictures their name is tagged in, and they’re very concerned about the way that they present themselves online. So they curate their identity and their reputation very aggressively.

Millennials More Susceptible to Scams Than Seniors
AARP / Austin O’Connor

According to the annual databook of consumer complaints about fraud released by the Federal Trade Commission… 40 percent of people between the ages of 20 and 29 [who reported fraud] reported losing money in fraudulent schemes in 2017, compared with only 18 percent of people 70 and older…

Though the results of the survey fly in the face of the stereotype of the doddering scam victim, experts say that younger consumers are actually far more open to sharing personal information online, which opens them up to scams. They also point to the ‘optimism bias’: The assumption by younger people that others are more at risk. 

Revenge of the Faceblockers: Social Media Abstainers Aren’t Worried About Their Data
HuffPost / Lisa Belkin

Sherry Hamby, a psychology professor at the University of the South who studies victimization of vulnerable communities in Appalachia, agrees that age is probably not the primary factor for those who shun social media, including some of the rural populations she studies. In her experience, few of the presumed reasons actually hold true. For instance, while it is assumed that individuals who live in Appalachia do not own the latest in technology because they can’t afford it, her research has found that “the deeper reason is a lot of skepticism about technology and a lot of consideration of the ways it changes life.”


This story was updated April 16, 2018.

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Leigh Ann Hubbard

Leigh Ann Hubbard is a freelance journalist specializing in aging, health, the American South and Alaska.

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