Social Media – Good friend or worst enemy

Being 50 means we didn’t grow up with social media and the internet, and unlike millennials, we have had to learn it all the hard way. Some of us are digital natives and some of us are terrified of it (am I being spied on?). In your professional life you need a basic digital footprint otherwise you will be dismissed as a Luddite. But in our personal lives, why bother?

I think our collective fear is not knowing what happens to our information, and as we know, that is a genuine concern. Governments are clamping down on this to protect us. The rule of thumb is that only put up in the public domain what you don’t mind anyone seeing – it could be literally anyone.

Whether we like it or not, it is certainly here till its next iteration, and that could be a long time away. I thought it might be useful to try and understand what it’s all about and how it can be harnessed to empower us. And what better person to use than a digital native, an 18 year old who has known nothing else, my son Zac.


It’s not social media as such but it is a life changing way of communicating. It is free, super easy to upload and to use. It compartmentalises all your chat by individual or groups and keeps a stream of your conversation for you to look back over. It is a brilliant way to send images and video which would normally be slow and potentially challenging when sending abroad, plus you can video call. You can easily access it via your mobile phone, tablet or laptop and the two are synced. It doesn’t use up texts or phone minutes as it uses data which means you can use it abroad without worrying about cost. When you upload it to your mobile phone, it instantly connects directly to your mobile number and automatically adds all your contacts so they are there with their name and profile pic ready for you to chat to immediately (assuming they are on WhatsApp, and masses of us are). It really is that simple.


This is the best social media platform for us to use as all the young ‘uns have left it! They said they felt they were sitting at one of their parents’ dinner parties. It is, however, a wonderful way to see what others are up to and to keep up a light touch relationship, particularly with those who are in other countries (I love to see what my crazy cousins in America are up to). You can post pictures from your holiday directly from your phone, comment on a life event or simply ‘like’ someone’s posts, add a comment to them or private message them. It is a good way of holding all your photos and to look back on your life and events – they call it a timeline for a reason. You can look on your friends’ pages, keep up with what they are doing, and see who they are friends with which is also a good way of reconnecting with long lost pals.

Also, you can follow accounts of people/organisations you like but don’t know personally eg NASA, NatGeo or your favourite celebrity. You can set up private, closed groups eg for your class of ’77 at school. You can create a private event eg a party in which members of the group can accept, decline or maybe attend. This takes some of the hassle out of organising your guests as messages put to the group will be received by each individual member (and no one outside the group). As you are asked for your birthdate in your profile, it will highlight when it is your birthday or your friends’ so you never have to be late with birthday wishes again. It uses cookies meaning that things you may be interested in are deliberately advertised to you – some people have found this annoying as they feel bombarded with apparently irrelevant images. I once looked at a silly cat video and now I get them all the time!

IMPORTANT! Make sure your timeline is PRIVATE TO YOUR FRIENDS ONLY to remove the risk of random people seeing all your posts and information. Regularly check your settings to see if there are any updates that will work better for you.

Facebook has a direct messaging platform called Messenger, which needs to be downloaded as a separate app if on mobile, however this is not required if you’re on your laptop. This means you can talk privately with someone that you are friends with on Facebook which is particularly useful if you don’t have their contact details.


This seems to be taking over from Facebook as people tend to like it because they can just put up an image or video. If you have both a Facebook and an Instagram account, there is an option where they will link so if you post an image on Instagram it will also appear on Facebook. They are owned by the same people. It is more instantaneous than Facebook and those migrating to it are doing so because there is less unwanted stuff and it is a nice way to log your life visually for you and for others. It has a younger profile than Facebook, and like Facebook you can direct message people privately and create groups if you choose. However, unlike Facebook, Instagram doesn’t have the events planner.

You can also follow people – just about every celebrity in the world has an Instagram account. But it is also good for the less frivolous things as well eg to keep up with the news.

Instagram has a feature called a Story where people can post something which will only be up for 24 hours. With this, you are free to post pictures of your daily life, a picture of your pet, or a day out with the family knowing the Story will disappear after 24 hours – this makes for a more personal side of your Instagram. Who can see your Story and who can reply to it are completely your choice.

On the search icon (where you can search for other accounts) it provides you with posts from the people you follow and topics they think you might like based on your search history – this is called your ‘Explore’ page. It is an endless stream so try not to be on it for days!

You can email a person direct from their Instagram page, and you can even direct message anyone, and when I say anyone I mean anyone, even Trump. Try it!

Overall it is quite similar to Facebook but it really depends which platform your friends are using as to which one you use the most.

For Instagram and Twitter (see below) every account has an @ sign eg @Lydialoves50. So, if you want to mention someone in the caption simply include their name with the @ sign in front of it eg @person’s name.

It is popular for business use, and offers the ability to put a link to your website in your bio directing people towards a purchase opportunity. It is a way of freely advertising your product, and is useful to stay in direct contact with your customers regarding problems or questions they might have. A way that they help this is the option to create multiple accounts eg one for business and one for personal.


This is a great way to follow people that you are curious about – they could be your friends, but also someone famous such as Barack Obama (who has 106.4m followers!). They will send out short messages ‘tweets’, which they think others might find interesting. You can see how many followers they have, how many people they are following (Obama follows 614,000 people!) and how many tweets they have posted. Just because you have a twitter account doesn’t mean you have to tweet yourself, you can simply follow people you want to engage with more and read their posts instead. In addition to keeping up to date with your favourite accounts, Twitter is an excellent platform to learn new things through the people you follow – this could be through picking up on different political insights or learning new skills in the kitchen. The more you search through twitter, the more you will find to follow.

If you want to post a Tweet: click the blue quill icon in the bottom right hand of your screen, simply add your message and ‘Tweet’! Unless you are famous, no-one but your friends tend to care. There is a great little feature called a ‘Retweet’ where you can share a tweet someone else has posted to your followers. This can be used for a number of things such as showing your followers a funny video you came across or to get the word out about a lost cat.

Like other platforms, you can direct message people you are following – you never know Obama might reply!


This is where all the young people hang out now they have left Facebook. It is a way to send messages, videos and photos that delete themselves the moment you click off them. Celebrities are keen on it as a way to access their fans.

Snapchat users are free to subscribe to any account they like – whether it be BBC News or Kylie Jenner, the choice is completely up to you. Like Facebook, Snapchat also has Stories which, again, can be used as a medium to show your friends what you’ve been up to or where you are going tonight. A unique feature of Snapchat, however, is that certain locations (such as all over Paris) have their own personal stories where any random person can share what they are doing eg visiting the Eiffel Tower. You can see where there are the most stories happening right now via the red heat map.

Like all social media platforms, there is always an open door for Cyber Bullying. Snapchat is particularly susceptible to this due to the fact that posts disappear after 24 hours. This can lead to more keyboard warriors who hide behind their screens. Problems like this are overcome by only allowing specified friends to message you, so as long as you keep only your close friends on Snapchat, you should be fine.

Your Snapchat account is characterised by your Bitmoji. This is a cartoon caricature of yourself – a mini me that you create yourself specifically for Snapchat. Snapchat offer Snap Maps – their own map similar to any Maps app on your phone. But what makes Snap Maps unique is the opportunity to see your friends’ Bitmojis in the location they were last in when they checked their Snapchat. This feature can be dangerous for obvious reasons, so your settings can be customised in two ways: either you can completely turn off your location, or you can select specific friends you would feel comfortable sharing this information with. For the former, there is an option called ‘Ghost Mode’ where your Bitmoji is invisible to your friends for a specified time of your choosing. To access this, swipe down when you are on your camera page and this will bring up Snap Maps. Click in the top right hand corner and a ‘Ghost Mode’ option will be available. 

Snapchat Lenses: this is so funny, you can add filters to your live image which add funny faces, bunny ears or distort your image in wacky ways, all of which can be sent on to your friends. On the topic of friends, Snapchat have that covered – some lenses are designed to be done with two people so grab your nearest friend while you’re out and get a hysterical pic of the two of you. To do this, just tap the camera screen and you have a choice of lenses which overlay the cartoons onto your image.  Snapchat have their own lenses for you to use, however, you also have the option to create your own. An additional feature of lenses makes for quite a fun, contextual filter – Snapchat often release filters relevant to recent news or events. For example, last July, there was a Wimbledon filter.

A great enhancement to my look courtesy of Snapchat


This is the place to see just about any video. You can watch documentaries, clips of Pan’s People from the 70’s or learn the piano, the choice is yours.   To get the most out of YouTube you can create an account (for free and only requires your email address) which entitles you to look at more content for which you need to be a subscriber, so someone/something that interests you eg Gordon Ramsay will post all films of him talking, cooking, swearing etc. It’s really helpful for you too as all the videos from all of the accounts you are subscribed group into your own personal feed – which to me is easier than scrolling through YouTube. You can see how many people are subscribed to them and therefore how popular they are. If you ‘like’ a video (using the thumbs up sign), it is automatically added to your library of liked videos to look at later. If you watch certain videos, you will get similar ones recommended to you by YouTube which can be interesting or outright annoying if you weren’t interested in what you watched!

Every YouTube account, including yours, has the opportunity to post videos. If you, yourself, are not interested in posting but you would like to look at others’ posts, simply type in the name of their account into the search icon in the top right hand corner of your screen. On their page will be a list of their videos in order of when they were posted. If you would like to narrow down your search, there is an option for the YouTuber to create ‘playlists’ which groups videos making them easier for you to access. However, this is up to the YouTuber themselves to organise their videos in such a way.

Then there is Trending. If you specify what categories you like, YouTube will regularly provide you with the most up to date videos in that genre. It’s a great way to feed your interests and learn new things. You can search whatever you want eg learn to play bridge and videos relating to it will immediately appear.

You can share content via different platforms such as send a video to your friends via WhatsApp. If you have the right connections, you should be able to connect the video you are watching on your phone to your TV too.

Facetime/Google Duo/Skype

These all do pretty much the same thing which is to enable you to speak to someone over wifi via a live video call …for free. It is a truly wonderful invention as there is nothing like seeing the person as opposed to simply hearing their voice. Though just about every platform allows you to make voice calls (inc WhatsApp). They all enable you to have group conversations too so the whole family can chat together. Facetime is specifically for apple, Macbooks and iPhones. The others are cross platform. If your child has an iPhone and you have an android, the best way to video call them is through Google Duo or Skype. Both are super easy to load onto your phone, laptop or tablet. Just keep a record of your password (I am forever losing mine). I wouldn’t use it over data as it is live streaming and will use a lot of data which could end up costing you more.

Skype also has an alternate platform made specifically for business called Skype Business. It is particularly good in that it has an industrial strength security protection which is of course important for confidentiality. You can present to large groups of people around the world or simply have business calls with colleagues and clients. I am not going to address the business apps here as there are so many options…..another time perhaps.

But before we sign off, we should mention LinkedIn which is specifically a business social media platform. Literally just about every business person in the world will have a LinkedIn account. It is free to set up an account and is a great way to build your business network and profile. The boring bit is that you need to put up a proper profile of your business experience and also a professional looking image of yourself (none of that, dancing at a party kind). But then once that is done, bam! You will be flooded with names of people you might know. That is great fun as you will find people you had lost touch with since school and suddenly there they are. You just ask to ‘connect’ with them and if they accept, you become friends. You can see how many business contacts you have as well as others (and can get friend envy!). Then as with all platforms you can private message people. You can upgrade and pay to use LinkedIn as more of a business generating tool and can private message strangers.

So, there you have a few platforms to contemplate. I happen to love social media, but in moderation. I particularly like the ability to see what my friends are up to, but all this comes with a potential issue, that of FOMO (Fear of missing out). A new phenomena where we see what others are doing and feel we have miserable lives as a consequence. Don’t let that get to you! Things are never as they seem……

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