Baby Boomers face unique challenges in navigating digital media. Their trust in the internet mirrors the one they had toward traditional media.
- Baby Boomers may struggle with digital technology and identifying online scams due to their upbringing in a less technologically advanced era.
- Social media algorithms and personal preferences create echo chambers that reinforce existing beliefs, making it difficult for Boomers to distinguish between real and fake news.
- Boomers’ trust in traditional media formats can be a double-edged sword, as it lends credibility to some sources but also makes them vulnerable to misinformation presented in a convincing way.
The COVID-19 pandemic really showed the stark contrast in how each generation consumes information, especially news. Their trust in the internet can be astounding. Since the outbreak, we witnessed most baby boomers relying on questionable sources for information. Why is that?
Limited Digital Literacy
What little digital literacy they have, or lack thereof, may be the main contributor to their susceptibility to fake news. Many Boomers grew up in an era where digital technology was not as prevalent as it is today. They may be less familiar with the workings of social media platforms or the various ways in which fake news spreads online. Truth be told, the internet is hard to navigate if you are not ready to encounter the worst. Explaining to my mother that just because you saw it on Facebook doesn’t make it true was quite the rollercoaster at the beginning.
Echo Chambers and the Trust in the Internet
Echo chambers refer to situations where people are exposed only to information and opinions that are consistent with their existing beliefs and values, without being challenged or exposed to different perspectives. If I’m never challenged on my beliefs, how can I truly believe it? Boomers, like any other age group, may seek out information confirming their pre-existing beliefs. To make matters worse, social media algorithms often reinforce these echo chambers by showing users content aligning with their interests and preferences. This can make it more difficult for them to distinguish between real news and fake news. If you look back at the U.S. presidential election, you can see the way Boomers, specifically right-wing boomers, gravitated around Fox News, and Donald Trump’s socials.
Traditional Media Outlets vs. New Sources of Information
Growing up in a time when print newspapers, radio, and television were the primary sources of news, Boomers may be more likely to trust information presented in such format. Think news articles or broadcasts. However, this trust in traditional media can also make them more vulnerable to fake news stories resembling traditional journalism. This time around, however, they lack the rigorous fact-checking and editorial oversight of established news organizations. Overall, Boomers’ trust in traditional media may be a double-edged sword. It provides a sense of reliability and legitimacy to some sources of information. But it also makes them more vulnerable to misinformation presented in a convincing way.
Does every generation fall for internet-generated false information to a certain extent? Yes. How many of us misattributed a quote? However, the fact that boomers can’t or won’t (depends on how you look at it) differentiate between credible sources and unreliable sources is scary. Those are the people who are chronically online. I’m just glad my mother didn’t discover Facebook until well into my teens and to this day hasn’t figured out Instagram.
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