How To Protect Elderly Relatives On Social Media

In December 2021, a joint committee on Parliament's online safety bill claimed that the tech industry was the land of the lawless.

The committee unanimously pushed for reforms in digital safety, enforcement, and advertising, suggesting a vast overhaul of the existing bill to keep citizens safe from online danger. The proposed reforms would massively change how social media operates. Suggestions included measures to make it more difficult to share misinformation on massive scales, requirements for platforms to keep trolls banned, and regular third-party audits that delve into the risks posed by content on their platform and the incidences of harmful and illegal content.

With major rewrites of the bill required to integrate these suggestions, it's not clear how quickly these changes could be implemented. What is clearer though, are the government's concerns about how safe the internet is for everyone. With an increasing number of silver surfers taking an interest in online communication - how can you help keep your older relatives safe, savvy and engaged when browsing the internet?

Nearly half (48%) of internet users aged 65-74 now have a social media profile. Among over 75s, the proportion with a profile has nearly doubled – from 19% to 41%."

Ofcom, 2017

Setting Up Device Protection

In the lawless land of social media, scams, misinformation, and viruses are common. Age UK, the country's leading charity for helping seniors, suggests taking a few basic steps to keep devices safe and reduce the risk of malware infection. These include keeping passwords strong, using security software on computers, tablets, and phones, and keeping networks secure. All of these steps -- including using strong passwords -- can be set up in a few minutes by an experienced helper and never touched again.

If you can, try to help your elderly relatives set up a password manager, install antivirus software, and enable automatic updates on their devices. These steps won't make scams and malware impossible, but they'll form a basic layer of protection that reduces risk.

Teaching Good Online Habits

To protect against scammers, trolls, and other bad actors, try having a discussion about online habits and safety. Make sure that your relatives understand that they should limit who can access their information online, that they shouldn't trust anything that sounds too good to be true, and that they should approach any interaction with online strangers with a healthy dose of scepticism. It's a good idea to introduce them to anti-phishing techniques like avoiding embedded links in emails, contacting companies directly about suspicious messages, and checking to make sure that messages are from the right person.

In addition to these discussions, take an active approach to help spot trouble before it starts. Make sure that you're friends with your relatives on social media so you can see what they post and who they're interacting with. Check-in and have a conversation every so often about how your relative is using social media and see what they say. People at both extremes of the age spectrum are particularly vulnerable to both misinformation and exploitation. You can also apply these techniques to protect people from online grooming and other dangers on social media. By watching what your family members post and talking about how they use the internet, you'll be able to spot danger from a mile away.

An Important Connection

As COVID continues to interfere with our ability to socialize in person, it's increasingly important to keep older people safe and secure in their online social spaces. Social media has been linked to positive mental health benefits in older people, but it's not without risks. Between trolls, scammers, and misinformation farms, using social media can come with more than its fair share of headaches. Older relatives may struggle to cope with these dangers. Setting up a basic layer of malware protection, teaching good password habits, and having a conversation about online safety can massively reduce their risk of being the victim of an online attack.

Friending older relatives on their favourite social media platforms will help you keep tabs on their online activities, enabling you to have conversations about any misinformation they may be exposed to and the people they're interacting with. Not only will these conversations help you nip problematic interactions in the bud, but they'll also give you a great excuse to regularly keep in touch with your relatives.

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