2/14/19 · Research

Over 65s check WhatsApp, their application of choice, 17 times a day

Older people view the application as a safer channel of communication than Facebook

The application's low cost and popularity among relatives and friends are the main reasons for its success among this demographic
Foto: Unsplash/Sara Kurfeß

Foto: Unsplash/Sara Kurfeß

“WhatsApp is the most commonly used application by adults over the age of 65,” says Andrea Rosales, researcher at the UOC's Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3). Since the emergence of the internet and smartphones, this population group is using the web and its applications more and more intensively. Almost 50% of them now connect to the internet from their home and the smartphone has become the device most commonly used device for connecting, used by 82.9% of those aged over 65. But do younger generations use WhatsApp differently? Are the elderly really “serial spammers”? What myths need to be dispelled? Why do they use the app? Rosales, expert in the elderly and ICT, provides the answers.

Nowadays, this instant messaging application, just like smartphones, plays a key role in the daily lives of older, tech-savvy people. WhatsApp is the application they use most frequently, on average 16.9 times per day (the average for the population is 26.4). Researchers at the UOC, Andrea Rosales and Mireia Fernández-Ardèvol, from the Communication Networks & Social Change (CNSC) group, indicate in their 2016 study “Beyond WhatsApp: Older people and smartphones”, that social pressure and cost are the main reasons behind this phenomenon.

“The fact that those in their direct circle use the app encourages them to download it in order to feel more emotionally connected with family and friends at any time, as well as for practical and logistical reasons. That doesn’t mean they are constantly checking their devices and the application all day long, but they do quickly and periodically check it throughout the day,” clarifies Rosales. In the end, it’s another channel for them to socially interact with others.

“Another factor that tips the balance in the app’s favour is that messages and voice calls sent through it are included in their phone tariff. Unlike in other countries such as Belgium and Canada, unlimited SMS messages are not included in mobile phone plans in Spain and, therefore, older people, just like everyone else in Spain, see WhatsApp as a cheap communication service,” she adds.

One thing that distinguishes the older generations from younger users is that they prefer making voice calls to convey information about important events or to give bad news, and they tend to hold long conversations. “They make calls on their mobile line or through WhatsApp,” explains Rosales. Some elderly people complain about the widespread use of text messages, feeling that much of the communication is lost. “For them, the voice allows you to transmit and perceive emotions and be more spontaneous.”

As a means of communication, older users see WhatsApp as being safer than Facebook. “They believe it gives them greater control over who the recipients of their messages are,” explains the expert.

‘Serial spammers’, a myth

Younger users perceive the over 65s as ‘serial spammers’. “Children and grandchildren often complain about the fact that they forward them photos, audio files and other types of information, but it’s a subjective view,” points out Rosales. They don’t do it any more than users of any other generation. “Sometimes our friends or those close to us send us content from third parties and we don’t perceive it in the same way. The fact is that we see anything we’re not interested in as spam,” she adds.

Studies such as “Less than you think: Prevalence and predictors of fake news dissemination on Facebook”, by New York University and Princeton University, and “Duty, Identity, Credibility: Fake news and the ordinary people in India”, by the BBC, have been carried out that identify this population group as one of those most likely to share fake news. Rosales explains that older people entered the world of new technologies later than other generations, and as a result also develop the skills related to identifying possible fake news later. “It's not that they are more likely to viralize fake news because they are older, but simply because they have joined the world of ICT later than the rest and, like everyone else, need some time to become acquainted with it and hone their digital identity and skills,” the researcher points out.

Specific social norms and writing skills

Different dynamics exist with regard to group chats that include older participants. “They negotiate and establish specific social norms of use that may stem from the etiquette associated with landline interaction. For example, it is frowned upon to send messages after 10 o’clock at night.” And, in terms of both group and individual communications, while youngsters tend to negatively view good spelling and grammar, messages sent by older users are carefully drafted. “They use more elaborate language, accents, full stops, etc., while people who haven't had as many education opportunities prefer not to write to avoid making mistakes,” explains Rosales.

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