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No Age Barriers in Facebook

Social media opens doors, reconnects friends

Social Media in NC

Lenni Gustafson, 71, joined Facebook to socialize with friends far from her home in Durham.  AARP North Carolina is using Facebook and other social media tools to better communicate with members. — D.L. Anderson

Lenni Gustafson joined Facebook in late 2009 to socialize and "opinionize" with friends. The free online service links her to friends, to neighbors who moved away, to entertainment and to new ideas.

See also: Older Americans embrace Facebook.

"It's like being 'in the now' compared to the 'used to be,' " said Gustafson, 71, of Durham. But "as time has gone by, I have found it to be so much more."

Facebook allows members to create a community unrestricted by distance. People can send and accept invitations to become friends with other Facebook members, whether they're around the corner or across the ocean. Friends can share as much — or as little — about their lives, activities, interests, photos and opinions as they want.

Facebook members may choose privacy restrictions so only those they personally "friend" can see posted material, or they can allow access to anyone.

"If you're new to Facebook, start slow, 'friending' only people you know," said AARP social media strategist Patti Shea. "Don't over-share information. For instance, don't list your mother's maiden name or your birth year."

Gustafson said she checks in on Facebook two or three times a day to "make a comment on something I've done that I think other people would be interested in."

She's hardly alone. Although Facebook gained popularity among college students when it was created in 2004, it's rapidly becoming the place older adults find a sense of connection. More than 500 million people are active users, Facebook says.

The Pew Research Center reported last year that the number of people over 65 using Facebook or other social media doubled in one year and increased 88 percent among people ages 50 to 64.

Facebook and other social media "are increasingly a part of the fabric of many people's lives, and the elderly are no exception," said Brian Southwell, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a researcher at RTI International.

Next: Organizations also find value in Facebook. >>


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