A study by the National University of Singapore, supported by the Social Science Research Council’s Social Science and Humanities Research Fellowship, debunked a false myth that mature people don’t do social media. Actually, they’re not only using some of these platforms on their own terms but they also challenge socially constructed notions of old age through them.
In particular, according to recently published research, TikTok is the favourite vehicle to engage in debates on ageing as well as fighting ageism.
Researchers, Reuben Ng and Nicole Indran have analyzed 348 videos on TikTok from older adults with at least 100,000 followers. They found nearly three in four videos featured older adults defying age stereotypes (71%), making light of age-related vulnerabilities (18%) and calling out ageism (11%).
Some of these older users – like the glammas– have become content creators, successfully racking up millions of followers, and dispelling the long-held belief that older adults are passive consumers of social media.
“Notwithstanding the ubiquity of negative age stereotypes, unfolding on TikTok is a powerful counter-cultural phenomenon in which older persons actually contest hegemonic discourses on old age by embracing or even celebrating their aged status,” the authors wrote. With ageist stereotypes common among younger social media users, the authors said the participation of older adults in social media is also vital to “destabilize age-related norms.”
In fact, even though scholars and policymakers have endeavoured to combat ageism through initiatives that involve educating the public or building intergenerational solidarity, few have considered putting older adults in the front and centre of the fight against ageism.
By showing how older users consciously engage in discourses on old age through their participation in social media, the research explores the potential for empowering older adults to take on a more active role in ongoing efforts to reframe ageing.
There were uploads where individuals celebrated what their ageing bodies could accomplish. Certain videos depicted older women taking ownership of their sexuality. There were also posts in which individuals expressed their contentment with their lives.
Most of these older TikTokers happen to be women. “Despite the reality of gendered ageism, these women make no attempt to conceal markers of old age, instead displaying a sense of self-assuredness that belies mainstream constructions of ageing as a dreadful process to be delayed or prevented“.
Additionally, some of these women fiercely resist common stereotypes of older women as passive, mild-mannered, and weak, instead opting to present themselves as fierce or even foul-mouthed.
For others, humour serves as an attempt to negotiate the stigma of old age, thereby allowing them to reclaim and reconstitute the meanings of ageist stereotypes in a manner that cushions their impact on the self.
“Beyond encouraging older persons to use social media, efforts could be made to motivate them to actively create their own content“, say researchers. “Not only will this undermine beliefs that older adults are disinterested in technology or passive users of social media it will also encourage them to share their own experiences of later life, thus enabling them to assume a more active role in age-based advocacy“.
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