The use of TikTok as a social media platform has been increasing in popularity. Though most frequently used by younger adults, some older adults have also embraced the platform. Despite its growing use among older adults, very few researchers have attempted to understand its impact on the concept of aging among older adults. In a study that earned a Bronze 2023 Mather Institute Innovative Research on Aging Award, researchers succeeded in doing just that!
To prevent being exposed to biased videos by the complex algorithm TikTok uses to keep users engaged, researchers created a new TikTok account that had not yet been exposed to bias. Researchers then sought out content from creators aged 60 and better, had follower counts exceeding 100,000, and had created at least 50 videos. A total of 30 content creators met these exclusion criteria. This generated 1,382 videos. After excluding non-age-related content, 348 videos were ultimately examined in this study using content analysis. Three common themes emerged.
First, the videos directed towards younger adults generally defy age stereotypes. In these videos, older adult content creators expressed confidence in how they maintained characteristics associated with youth as they have grown older, and they debunked myths pertaining to stereotypes about frailty. Some even celebrated what their aging bodies could accomplish, and identified themselves as superior to their younger counterparts.
Another emerging theme encompassed how the TikTok videos made light of Age-Related Vulnerabilities. Some content creators poked fun at their own limitations such as susceptibility to falls and COVID-19, and even the impending doom of death.
The last theme involved calling out ageism. The adult content creators addressed ageist remarks and used the platform to change the minds of younger adults on what it means to age. They essentially used TikTok as a platform to defend the aging process.
Researchers acknowledged that older adults make up a small fraction of TikTok users and content creators, as well as the abundance of ageist content on the platform. They ultimately argue that older adults should be encouraged to use the platform, further mitigating ageist stereotypes about older adults and technology use.