Silver surfers taking over Facebook

Silver surfers are joining Facebook in droves - to keep an eye on what their grandchildren are up to, reveals new research.

Silver surfers taking over Facebook
Silver surfers taking over Facebook

Figures show internet users over the age of 60 are the fastest growing age group on the social network.

And the study shows they are signing up to stay connected with their friends and family and make new pals - as well as being curious as to what all the fuss is about.

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A survey of 352 adults aged 60 to 86 showed they visited Facebook an average of 2.46 times a day - and stayed on the site for a little over 35 minutes.

The findings follows research last year which suggested there is finally a decline in use of the social network among teenagers - who are logging out quicker than new counterparts log in.

Eun Hwa Jung, a doctoral candidate in mass communications at Pennsylvania State University in the US, said: “Earlier studies suggest a positive relationship between bonding and bridging social capital and Facebook use among college students.

“Our study extends this finding to senior citizens.”

In the study the desire to stay connected to family and keep in touch with old friends - social bonding - was the best predictor of Facebook adoption and use followed closely by communicating with like-minded people, or social bridging.

Ms Jung said another factor in the growing phenomenon for senior Facebook users was simple curiosity.

She said: “Because they are now familiar with social networking technology some seniors are just starting to use Facebook out of curiosity.”

Older adults who are motivated by social bonding and curiosity tend to use Facebook as a form of social surveillance, said Professor Shyam Sundar.

He said: “Surveillance is the idea you’re checking out what people are up to.

“This is something many older adults do. They want to see how their kids are doing and, especially, what their grandkids are doing.”

But seniors were not prompted to actively participate when family and friends prod them to use the site.

Prof Sundar said: “When senior citizens respond to requests to join Facebook that tends to be a negative predictor of use.

“In other words they are not intrinsically motivated to participate when someone else requests they join.”

Older adults also tend to use Facebook features their younger counterparts favour, reports Computers in Human Behavior.

Ms Jung said: “Our findings show message-interactivity features - for example the chatting function and wall posting - are the dominant activities for older adults’ Facebook use.”

The researchers suggest designers of social media sites should emphasise simple and convenient interface tools to attract older adult users and motivate them to stay on longer.

Prof Sundar said: “Those who are motivated by social bonding are more likely to use the Like button which shows the importance of simplicity in interface design for senior citizens. The Like button is about as simple as you can get.” Developers may be interested in creating tools for seniors because that age group is the fastest growing demographic among social media users.

In 2013, 27 percent of adults aged 65 and older belonged to a social network, such as Facebook or LinkedIn. Now the number is 35 percent and is continuing to show an upward trend.

Prof Sundar said: “This isn’t just a fast-growing market but also a lucrative one. Older adults have much more disposable income than teens and college students and would be more desirable for advertising.”

Despite the growing importance little research has been published on what motivates older adults to use social networking sites.

Prof Sundar added: “Most of the research is about how college students use Facebook or how adolescents use Facebook.”

In future the researchers expect one-on-one interviews with older adults to provide better insight into the motivations that prompt them to join and use social networks.