The 2013 Time Goes By Elderblogger Survey


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In my earliest interaction with Facebook in 2007, one of the first things I discovered were dozens of sites devoted to hating old people.

Back then, Crabby Old Lady noted a few examples of the hate speech she found:

sometimes i see old people in wheelchairs and i have a strong urge to push them down the stairs.

Old People Make Me Want To Puke

I like to beat the living crap out of old people

Let us unite and join for a common cause, abolish social security and legalize euthanasia.

Nothing has changed in the intervening eight years. Well-known and respected aging researcher, Professor Becca Levy of Yale University, with colleagues from three other colleges have published the first ever study of age stereotypes that appear on social networking sites – in this case, Facebook.

Here is an excerpt from the abstract of their report published by Oxford University Press (full report is behind a paid firewall):

”...we conducted a content analysis of each publicly accessible Facebook group that concentrated on older individuals. The site 'Descriptions' of the 84 groups, with a total of 25,489 members, were analyzed.

“The mean age category of the group creators was 20–29; all were younger than 60 years. Consistent with our hypothesis, the Descriptions of all but one of these groups focused on negative age stereotypes.

“Among these Descriptions, 74% excoriated older individuals, 27% infantilized them, and 37% advocated banning them from public activities, such as shopping. Facebook has the potential to break down barriers between generations; in practice, it may have erected new ones.”

No kidding. One charming little piece of ugly bigotry said anyone older that 69 should face a firing squad. Another, quoted in the Vancouver Sun, agreed:

”You haven't got much going for you, so my advice is...take the bullet and enjoy your grave.”

I want us to consider what kind of media and advocacy storm would erupt of those statements were directed at blacks, Latinos, Asians, women, etc.

In its policies, Facebook forbids hate speech directed at race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability and disease. Do you see anything missing from that list?

Huffington Post quoted a Facebook spokesperson responding to questions about the age-related hate speech on the social networking site:

”A Facebook spokesman said the company had not yet seen the research, but noted that as of February 2012, one-third (34 percent) of Internet users age 65 and older use social networking sites such as Facebook, and 18 percent do so on a typical day.

“The spokesman directed Huffington Post to a University of Arizona study that found using Facebook could improve the memory of people 65 and older as well as help them feel more socially connected.

Uh-huh. Does that mean Facebook thinks hate speech is good for old people?

Facebook spokesperson, Andrew Noyes, was just as oblivious when the Denver Post asked for comment saying that “statements of hate” are removed when they are reported and they violate the Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.

“We welcome meaningful research on how people connect and share on Facebook,” he continued, “but believe this study paints an incomplete picture of how more than a billion people use the platform.”

Apparently that means Facebook finds it acceptable for 25,000 of their billion members to spout hate-filled diatribes against one certain cohort of people but not those others listed in their policies. Researcher Levy reports that all the ageist Facebook sites they studied were open to the public and easily turned up in searches using common words related to age.

Canadian artist Marja-Leena Rathje emailed me the Vancouver Sun story about the Yale Facebook study. That paper reports:

”Canada's International Federation on Aging is petitioning Facebook to ban age-related hate speech after a recent Yale University study found seniors were targets of bigotry on the social networking site...

“Jane Barratt, secretary-general of the IFA, said it's unacceptable that Facebook doesn't protect seniors from such attacks in its Community Standards on hate speech...”

Hate speech is awful enough when it is aimed at any group at all. But when one group is singled out as an exception to prohibition against hate speech – and, in this case, corporate spokespersons support the exception – the corporation becomes the definition of bigotry.

Again, let me ask about the media storm there would be if, instead of old people exempt from Facebook's hate-speech standards, it were women, gays, people with brown skin and so on.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dan Gogerty: If Video Killed the Radio Star, Smartphones Put My Transistor on Life Support


My experience with FB is a bit different from yours. It's not that I don't see some of that elder bashing; I do, but I pay it little attention.
I have a group of friends, many of whom are older, and we support each other, on FB and off, through blogs and email.
The young ones who make fun of old people or wish us harm, will get theirs someday. I will let someone else worry about that - and them.

I see so much bigotry on social media and elsewhere in society that I confess that I just tend my own patches and ignore most others. I've allowed my American Legion membership and my association with most military groups to lapse because they do not represent me.
I kind of need the Facebook friends with whom I correspond to remind myself that humanity itself isn't despicable. There is so much evidence to the contrary.

I cancelled -- yes, it can be done -- Facebook long ago after it's founder trashed elders and I don't miss it.

I have to say that I don't see much of this; maybe I just subconsciously ignore it. When there is so much dislike of the old and aging, it is usually a person's individual fear of getting old and dying. They are really looking at themselves but projecting it to others. Maybe on some level this helps them ultimately come to grips with the fate that we all face.

To my mind, this elder bias is everywhere! At first, I thought I was just being sensitive to my own aging, but of course it wasn't me. Attitudes toward aging are an important factor in one's adjusting to being part of the elder population. It's hard not to absorb it. Finally, you just accept that "it is the way it is." Sometimes I'm indignant and sometimes I don't bother. The older I get, it's easier to keep it all straight, but I do think this "hate climate" we live in is appalling for everyone. Not just our aging peers.

Having never subscribed to any of the "social networks" and being too involved in things that are of interest, I have no time to concern myself with what others think of me, my age, or my activities...

I don't go looking for trouble, but if it comes to me, I push back with wit.

If wit fails, I will defend my generation with my pick ax and steel toe work boots.

If that fails, I'll yank out a photo of my 90 year old mom juggling chain saws.


I don't think ageism is nearly as bad as the prejudice against fat people.

I've never seen this on Facebook. I only use it to connect with friends and acquaintances and to stay informed on local events. The price is definitely right.

However, I want to support you in your efforts to bring attention and condemnation to age related hate speech wherever you find it.

I too have sometimes chosen to ignore these types of comments. However, the language we use creates the culture we live in, and I'm just not ready for this kind of world.

I am a daily FB user, use it for family and far flung friends & relatives connections and have never encountered this hate. However if I do see deorgatory cartoons, etc I note they are all posted by elders and maybe wonder about the self hate projected, but briefly.
I'm not denying elder hate exists at all - but it seems not in my particular neck of the interwebz.

These comments amaze me. Do people of color or those with handicaps just choose to ignore hate-filled comments and FB because it allows them to stay in touch with friends? Yikes.

I'm on FB several times every day but use it to keep in touch with family and friends so don't see any nasty posts about elders. It doesn't surprise me though because people can be awful to each other. My 42 year old daughter is a gamer and tells me some of the horrible things said to her because of her age (much older than the adolescent boys playing). I can imagine what those boys say about elders. I think some of the meanness is because they are anonymous.

Facebook exists to harvest your private information and share it with or sell it to its business partners. It is free to users because user information is Facebook's product. (You didn't really think you were getting something for nothing, did you?) Facebook was sanctioned by the FTC in 2011 for privacy violations and will be subjected to third-party auditing for another 18 years.

With more than one billion users, I don't think for a minute that FB can adequately police user content and commentary, and you'll find as much hate speech there as anywhere else in our society. Probably more, since the Internet is such a fast, easy, relatively anonymous way to spread just about anything. Look on FB for any kind of hate speech -- not just anti-elderly -- and you'll find a lot of it.

Needless to say, I don't use Facebook.

I saw a commercial on TV last night featuring a gorgeous young woman driving a sports car at high speeds. Hair blowing in the wind, music playing loudly, a big smile on her face. It hit me: although I might have been that woman in my youth, I'm not that person now. I wouldn't feel safe driving around curves that fast, if for no other reason than knowing that my response time isn't what it was 40 years ago. At that moment I realized that there are probably young drivers cursing me for being cautious, as I used to curse them. Yes, there was a time I was guilty of age discrimination. Mea culpa. I'd like to think the recklessness of my youth has given way to compassion.

There was a time perhaps in our Grandparent's generation, when families lived together and cared for each other from start to finish and kids grew to respect older people. Now, we live far away from each other, large corporations feed us 24/7 with youth images (younger and younger each year), and both parents having to work to live... some kids grow up in a familial vacuum and only relate to the most dominate groups at school or in their neighborhood.

I joined facebook with a pseudonym to stay in touch with other folks who have my auto-immune disease. I knew most of them from another group. We are in a private room and I have made no other friends as I wish to remain anonymous. I have not seen any ageism, just a lot of cat pranks and zombie pics on my newsfeed.. and of course they get a lot of political realism from the groups I "liked"!

I feel shivers when I read about those who "choose to ignore" hate speech, to whomever it is directed. Therefore, I second Annie's saying that language shapes and characterizes the culture we live in. We have to draw the line somewhere! Whether it is with ageist speech, homophobic language, anti-Semitic utterances, whatever, it is all indicative of a permission to condemn others. And that makes me sick. And yes, I don't do Facebook, for many reasons. But Ronnie has given me another very compelling one now.

I use Facebook to keep in touch with family and friends around the world. When ever I see hate speech I report it. I think Facebook needs to get reports of how offensive this type of page/group is to us. I hope a volume of complaints would have an effect.
I don't go looking for pages like this but occasionally someone will draw one others attention requested the page or person be reported. It has worked.

I haven't seen the ageist hate speech in Facebook that's under discussion. Possibly that's because I decided after my first few encounters with Facebook that it's a HUGE waste of time. Also, I seriously want to protect what little privacy I may have left. Facebook's strategy for making money is to gather its members' personal information and put it up for sale. I may use FB occasionally to reply to messages family or friends send me, and to read posts related to the no-kill cat shelter where I volunteer but that's all.

I'm 100% against hate speech--any kind, any place any time, anywhere. Whatever the ostensible reason and towards whomever it's directed, hate speech serves only to pit individuals and groups against each other. Do we really need more divisiveness? Does society really need more inflammatory language? I don't think so! The kids perpetrating this crime (and I do regard hate speech as a crime) will be old sooner than they think; that is, if their recklessness doesn't kill them off sooner. I think the old saying "What goes around comes around" fits perfectly here.

We love Facebook. It was instrumental in our attempt to Recall Evil Scott Walker - it served as a focal point for discussion, information and a place to announce actions and plans. Still, even after that failed attempt we use Facebook for political campaign info and connection. PLUS, it our daily news source and an excellent way to stay in touch with friends. We don't see any negative bashing because we block anyone that is like that. Facebook is for your Friends - how are you seeing this stuff from your friends? I dont' get it.

Thanks for your research on this topic, Ronni. I understand how Facebook is important for many but surely there are other means of communication. Even if one doesn't see this bullying in one's circle of friends, we need to be aware how bad it really is in other groups. There have been numerous cases of bullying by youths that have led to physical beatings and even suicide.

When a company refuses to control hate speech even when it is their published policy to do so, the only way to send a message is to refuse to use the product enmasse. I think as a society we need to stand up to this with our own actions.

I may retract a part of my comment here (the first one). I belong to a florist forum, and they were discussing the woman florist in Washington state (I think) who refused to do flowers for a gay wedding, and is now going to be sued by the state and perhaps by the couple.

One of the comments was this:

"Poor old girl. Have you seen her? She probably close to 70. Change is harder, the older one gets."

I got livid immediately. I told her "I am 72, and change isn't hard for me." What I would like to do is take that middle-aged woman out behind the barn and give her the whipping of her life - and I am not usually in favor of that, or even mentioning it. But she made me mad with her generalizing.

I've never seen any ageist comments or age-related hate comments there. Perhaps it depends on how you use Facebook. Sometimes, new users join all kinds of pages that post sayings and such. Not a great idea. I join or "Like" only pages that I'm truly interested in and check in daily just to see what my Facebook friends are talking about and doing. I've made new friends through friends of friends, both locally and elsewhere.

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