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Older people using TikTok to defy ageist stereotypes, research finds

19-5-2022 |

Older TikTok users are using the online platform, regarded as the virtual playground of teenagers, to defy ageist stereotypes of elderly people as technophobic and frail.

Research has found increasing numbers of accounts belonging to users aged 60 and older with millions of followers. Using the platform to showcase their energy and vibrancy, these TikTok elders are rewriting expectations around how older people should behave both on and off social media.

“These TikTok elders have become successful content creators in a powerful counter-cultural phenomenon in which older persons actually contest the stereotypes of old age by embracing or even celebrating their aged status,” said Dr Reuben Ng, the author of the paper Not Too Old for TikTok: How Older Adults are Reframing Aging, and an assistant professor at Yale University.

Interestingly, said Ng, most TikTok elders are women who “fiercely resist common stereotypes of older women as passive, mild-mannered and weak, instead opting to present themselves as fierce or even foul-mouthed,” he said.

The immense reach that these older TikTok users have means they have the potential to transform negative age stereotypes that proliferate on social media.

“There is considerable evidence that ageist stereotypes are prevalent among the young on social media,” said Ng. These prejudices reached an all-time high during the Covid pandemic, during which the deadly virus was labeled a “Boomer remover”. “The strength of anti-age prejudices means the participation of older adults in social media is vital in ensuring that such ageist ideas are not left unchallenged,” said Ng, whose paper is to be published in the Gerontologist journal.

The paper looked at 1,382 videos posted by TikTok users who were aged 60 or older and had between 100,000 and 5.3 million followers. In total, their videos, all of which explicitly discussed their age, had been viewed more than 3.5bn times.

Ng found that 71% of these videos – including those from accounts such as grandadjoe1933, who has 5.3 million followers, and dolly_broadway, who has 2.4 million followers – were used to defy age stereotypes. A recurring motif was the “glamma”, a portmanteau combining “glamorous” and “grandma”, with videos including those of a 70-year-old woman joyfully parading around the streets in a midriff-baring top.

Almost one in five of the videos analyzed made light of age-related vulnerabilities, and one in 10 called out ageism among both younger people and their own contemporaries. Other videos positioned older users as superior to younger people.

“I may be 86 but I can still drink more than you lightweights” says one clip. “I may be 86 but I can still twerk better than you,” says another, showing an octogenarian leaping up from a fall down the stairs with a twerk.

Prof Fiona Gillison, from the Healthy Later Living Network at the University of Bath, who is leading work on challenging stereotypes about aging, said the study was important. But she added: “There is a balance to be struck in challenging stereotypes about aging while also accepting that it is OK to want different things from younger people as we grow older, and accepting that our interests and abilities may change.”

Ultimately, she said, people need to “take the stigma out of needing adjustments as we age while also challenging assumptions that can accompany these. For example that having a hearing aid somehow implies that we are ‘fragile’ or ‘infirm’ in other ways.”

Source: The Guardian