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Social Media – A Helpful Guide for The Elderly Part 1

Posted by Jamie McKay on October 23, 2020

the images shows a mobile phone with social media app icons of instagram, facebook and twitter

Photo by @dole777 via Unsplash

This week we were reading about the problems that the new NHS Covid-19 track and trace app was experiencing, problems ranging from it only working on new smart phones to it not accepting test results, when it occurred to us that there really isn’t an up to date guide for technology and social media for the elderly. So, we have written one! This is the first part.


With 2.7 billion users, Facebook is the biggest social media platform in the world.

It is a great way to keep in touch with friends and relatives wherever they may be across the world. Especially beneficial when you consider that most of the world’s population has been in some form of lockdown or shielding for much of the year 2020.

You can easily see what your grandchildren have been up to, send a comment or a message to your children, discover what friends are up to and share your own memories too.

Facebook is also a good way to catch up with news and local community groups. Most towns or villages have a local group where people can share news, and the kind of info you used to get from your local weekly newspaper, but this time it is constantly being updated.

The easiest way to join is to sign up (it is free) and then find one of your close family members or friends. You can then ‘add’ them as a friend, then you get to see what they have posted on Facebook.

The main screen of your Facebook is your news feed, this will show you updates from anyone you have added as a friend, plus any activity from other groups on Facebook you choose to follow. For example, below is the Ability Superstore page. The main section has updates that people have posted and, on the right, you can see other pages that we follow. So, if they post anything, we can see it in our news feed.

The image shows the main news feed of a facebook page

We mentioned above that Facebook is good for catching up with news, but because anyone can pretty much post anything on the platform, it can get tricky to distinguish real news from “fake news”.

A good rule of thumb is if the news is from an established outlet like the BBC or Sky News then it is safe to trust.

Another problem on Facebook is their “algorithms”, which you may be surprised to know isn’t a medical condition!

Basically, algorithms are how websites decide what to show you. One example is on Amazon when they suggest products that might be of interest to you, or Netflix when it suggests programmes you might want to watch.

Facebook’s algorithm used to show your news feed in chronological order, now their algorithm decides what to show based on who you interact with the most and what they think you will like.

So, it can feel a bit like you are channel hopping on the TV but someone else has the remote control!


If you think of Facebook as a way to keep in contact with your friends and family, then Twitter is a way of keeping in contact with everyone else in the world. Let’s have a glance at what it looks like below:

the image shows the home screen of Twitter

Just like Facebook, the main part of your screen is taken up by the Twitter news feed. At the top is the text box where you can type stuff (like the Facebook status). On the left is your own menu and on the right is ‘what’s happening’ with ‘news’ updates.

Unlike Facebook where you ‘add’ friends, on Twitter you ‘follow’ people. For example, you can see that we follow @BBCArchive (every Twitter account has ‘@’ at the beginning).

Where Twitter has come into its own is the # symbol or “hashtag”.

Here’s an example, on Christmas day last year, the comedian Sarah Millican created a hashtag called #joinin

This was to help people who were spending Christmas alone or felt isolated so they could feel part of a community. If you type #joinin in the search bar you will see every post with that subject and if you post, so will everybody else.

The Great British Bake Off is an incredibly popular show and their hashtag lets thousands of people watch together and tweet about it using #GBBO. So, even if you are watching alone it can feel like you are watching with lots of friends.

When you start using Twitter it can feel a bit like shouting into the wind, but if you find a hashtag that you like, then you will soon find that you are interacting with like-minded people in no time at all!

the image shows the #gbbo on Twitter


NHS Covid-19 App and QR Codes

On the 24 September, the UK Government launched an NHS Covid-19 App. Designed to help stop the spread of coronavirus in England and Wales. Almost as soon as it launched there were reports of problems.

For a start, you need to have a smartphone to be able to use it and some older Apple and Android phones haven’t got the technology to run it.

There’s a frequently asked questions on the NHS app collated by the BBC here to find out what to do and answer some other common queries raised.

Secondly it uses something called a “QR code” as do other businesses that are open and have to register visitors during the pandemic.

So, What Is A QR Code and What Do We Do?

A ‘Quick Read Code’ (QR code) is a “picture” that when scanned by a smartphone can send or receive some information instantly (it’s very similar to a barcode which we are more used to seeing on the side of a baked bean can which is scanned at the till to tot up the price of the shopping!)

For example, if you see one (example below) on the door of your local library when you visit, you can use the camera on your phone to quickly scan it. Instead of having to write down your contact details. The information is then logged by the library and they can contact you if they experience a positive case of coronavirus.

the image shows a mobile phone scanning a QR code

The NHS Covid-19 App hopes to collect all the information logged by the QR codes, so they can, in theory, track the movements of people who have coronavirus and trace the people who they may have been in contact with.

Then the app contacts those people and lets them know that they should isolate or if they have any coronavirus symptoms, to get a test.

Keeping Safe from Covid-19

The NHS App, along with the localised lockdown measures, social distancing, washing hands and wearing face masks, are all being used to try and drive down the number of positive cases in England.

You can find us on Facebook and Twitter and next time we will continue our Guide to Social Media Part 2 – some come back for some more useful reading.