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More senior citizens befriending Facebook

By Gheni_Platenburg
Sept. 13, 2010 at 4:13 a.m.

Every other week during her spare time, Patsy Miles opens her computer and connects with her loved ones through Facebook. She clicks through the pages, reading her family's comments and photos. She uses four computers to keep in touch with her family and friends. Through the Internet, Miles found out about her grandson getting struck by a lightning bolt four years ago while taking golf lessons. Her daughter Veronica opened  her a Facebook account about six moths ago, which she uses to read about her grandchildren and learn about their likes and dislikes.

Safety Tips for Social Networking:Think about how different sites work before deciding to join a site. Some sites will allow only a defined community of users to access posted content; others allow anyone and everyone to view postings.

Think about keeping some control over the information you post. Consider restricting access to your page to a select group of people, for example, your friends from school, your club, your team, your community groups or your family.

Keep your information to yourself. Don't post your full name, Social Security number, address, phone number or bank and credit card account numbers - and don't post other people's information, either. Be cautious about posting information that could be used to identify you or locate you offline. This could include the name of your school, sports team, clubs and where you work or hang out.

Make sure your screen name doesn't say too much about you. Don't use your name, your age or your hometown. Even if you think your screen name makes you anonymous, it doesn't take a genius to combine clues to figure out who you are and where you can be found.

Post only information that you are comfortable with others seeing - and knowing - about you. Many people can see your page, including your parents, your teachers, the police, the college you might want to apply to next year or the job you might want to apply for in five years.

Remember that once you post information online, you can't take it back. Even if you delete the information from a site, older versions exist on other people's computers.

Consider not posting your photo. It can be altered and broadcast in ways you may not be happy about. If you do post one, ask yourself whether it's one your mom would display in the living room.

Flirting with strangers online could have serious consequences. Because some people lie about who they really are, you never really know who you're dealing with.

Be wary if a new online friend wants to meet you in person. Before you decide to meet someone, do your research: Ask whether any of your friends know the person, and see what background you can dig up through online search engines. If you decide to meet them, be smart about it: Meet in a public place, during the day, with friends you trust. Tell an adult or a responsible sibling where you're going and when you expect to be back.

Trust your gut if you have suspicions. If you feel threatened by someone or uncomfortable because of something online, tell an adult you trust and report it to the police and the social networking site. You could end up preventing someone else from becoming a victim.

Source: Federal Trade Commission

Problem with connectivity costsDespite the growing popularity of the Internet among the elderly, many are unable to partake in it due to high costs.

"Some older people don't get online because it's very expensive and they just can't afford it," said Patsy Miles. "It's an extra expense that they can't spend."

Victoria resident Betty Lott expressed similar thoughts.

"I have a computer, but no Internet. We're on a fixed income," said 71-year-old Lott. "I'm kind of skittish to get it turned on, then I can't keep it up."

The Area Agency on Aging of the Golden Crescent has attempted to help the elderly in need of Internet access by providing computers at their senior centers throughout the area.

"We are very committed to providing access for seniors in any way possible," said Cindy Cornish, director for the agency. "Seniors could use the computers to research their Medicare benefits, compare prescription drug plans, or check the Social Security Administration site."

Debbie Garner, executive director of the Victoria County Senior Center, said visitors to her center often use the computers to look up medical ailments or medications.

In some cases, senior citizens' inability to successfully maneuver the Internet is due to a lack of computer skills.

"I'm looking into taking some basic courses at the library," said Lott, who acknowledged that she was not familiar with most of the new computer programs. "When I need help, I just come to the center."

Victoria resident Patsy Miles is a wife, mother and grandmother who is looking to meet people who are interested in friendship and networking.

She also enjoys watching "The Ghost Whisperer," "Desperate Housewives" and "Extreme Home Makeover" on television.

If you were Miles' Facebook friend, however, you would already know this information.

Miles, 70, is just one of a growing number of older adults who are regularly using social media nowadays.

"Our kids don't write letters," said Miles, who checks her Facebook account several times a week. "If we want to keep up with them, then we have to keep up with technology."

Social networking use among persons ages 50 and up has nearly doubled from 22 percent to 42 percent over the past year, according to 2010 data from the Pew Research Center.

Additionally, half of Internet users ages 50-64 and 1 in 4 users ages 65 and older now use social networking sites.

In its research, Pew analyzed the age demographic usage trends of Twitter, social networking sites, online banking, e-mail, method of getting news and online classifieds.

Although Miles, who has five children and five grandchildren, has only had her Facebook account for about a year, she is no newbie to social media.

Her first foray came nearly seven years ago when she began keeping up with her grandson Hollis' blog, where he chronicled everything from his wild college days to proposing to his fiancee in Italy.

"I thought it was a lot of fun keeping up with Hollis and the things going on with his life," said Miles. "He was always busy, so he had no time to call on the phone."

For many senior citizens, connecting with family members is the biggest motivator for getting more involved with the Internet and social networking sites.

"You better get on it because all the kids are on it," said 84-year-old Shirley Schankweiler, who said her daughter set up a Facebook account for her last year.

Schankweiler has four children, 11 grandchildren and five great-grand children, most of who are also on Facebook.

"I used to e-mail, now I just use Facebook," said Schankweiler.

Older adults tend to follow their younger family members' leads when it comes to determining which social sites to join.

"Our kids aren't into Twitter, so we aren't either," said Miles.

Finding long lost friends is also a goal for many elderly Facebook users.

Sadly, Miles, like many others, said they have had a hard time finding old friends online.

"I tried. I didn't find anybody," said Miles. "It could be that I out survived everyone."

The ability to peep into the lives of others without them knowing is also a big appeal.

"People put things on Facebook that they wouldn't normally tell their Mom or Dad, so you can sort of peep into their real lives," said Miles.

In addition to the desire to connect with family members, Pew data showed that senior citizens were more attracted to social media because of illnesses they may have.

"Older adults are more likely to be living with a chronic disease, and those living with these disease are more likely to reach out for support online," said the data report.

Although Miles enjoys the simple pleasures of Facebook like sharing a cute story about her dogs in her Facebook status, she said she avoids putting up much personal information or inappropriate pictures, as many younger users do.

"We don't put anything on Facebook that would hurt us. We're smarter than that. It's the young people that do that," she said.

Keeping up with the Facebook mini-feed is a big priority for Schankweiler, who said she checks her Facebook at least three times a day.

"I check it first thing in the morning," she said. "I'm always looking at it. I don't have to do it, but I do."

The fact that wall posts and tweets have replaced phone calls and letters does not bother 80-year-old Yoakum resident Barbara York, who mainly communicates with three of her grandchildren on Facebook.

"Sometimes I think its better that they put down their thoughts and I read them than talking face-to-face," said York, who said she often access Facebook through her iPhone. "I hear a lot more from them, and they seem to get carried away more than when they are writing in ink."

York, however, is not naive enough to think that she can get all the details of her grandchildren's lives simply by checking an inbox message or status update.

"I know I get a censored version, but I'm sure I would get that face-to-face too," York chuckled.

The Internet in general is a big hit for many seniors.

"We get tired of watching nothing on TV so we get on the Internet," said Miles, who owns four computers. "Sometimes they're all busy."

When she is not checking sports stats on her Internet homepage, playing computer games or doing some online banking, Schankweiler spends time reading the Canton Repository online, which is her hometown's newspaper.

"I can check out the people and see if I know anyone," she said.



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