According to researchers from Princeton and New York University, people aged 65 and older are up to seven times more likely to share fake news and dubious links on social media than their younger counterparts.
There are several theories. The first is that many seniors started using social media sites like Facebook only within the past five or six years and may lack the digital literacy skills to identify false or misleading content.
Some other possible theories are that most seniors experience some cognitive decline as they age, making them more likely to fall for hoaxes. Many older Americans also suffer from chronic loneliness which can cause them to share misinformation as an attempt to make connections with other people. And studies have shown that older people are generally more trusting than younger generations, which can make them more gullible.
All this is particularly concerning now as we sit in the midst of a global health pandemic and a 2020 election season, both of which are ripe with misinformation, rumors and conspiracy theories. And seniors are prime targets of this false/misleading information because they are much more likely to vote than their younger cohorts and are much more vulnerable to getting sick and dying if they contract COVID-19.
Where to Get Help
To help detect and combat online misinformation there are several great resources that offer free courses and tips.
One is MediaWise for Seniors, a project of the Poynter Institute, which offers two free online courses to help seniors detect and combat online misinformation – see Poynter.org/mediawise-for-seniors.
The first four-week course has already filled up, but your mom can still enroll in a self-directed course called “Hands-On Lessons to Separate Fact and Fiction Online.” It is hosted by Christiane Amanpour and Joan Lunden, and is scheduled to begin Sept. 24, but you can take the course anytime.
In addition, Poynter has worked with AARP to produce Fact Tracker interactive videos and a webinar on spotting and filtering misinformation at AARP.org/facttracker.
Some other free course options you should look into include Senior Planet, which is offering a one-hour online course on “How to Spot Fake News” at SeniorPlanet.org.
The News Literacy Project that provides the Checkology virtual classroom, which was initially created for middle and high school students, is now offering an independent learners option that is ideal for older adults – see Get.Checkology.org. Their lessons will help you learn how to detect the difference between news, opinion and propaganda.
And Coursera, a free world-wide online learning platform, which offers an in-depth six-week course called “Making Sense of the News: News Literacy Lessons for Digital Citizens,” which can be accessed at Coursera.org/learn/news-literacy.
There are also many good websites, like PolitiFact.com and Snopes.com that will let you fact check a story to help her identify fact versus fiction. These sites have most likely already fact-checked the latest viral claim to pop up in her news feed.
Jim Miller publishes the Savvy Senior, a nationally syndicated column that offers advice for Boomers and Seniors.