AARP-supported social network seems to lure older users to Facebook

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Facebook, which turned 18 last month, has built a reputation as the social network for older Americans. That reputation is not undeserved: According to a study by the Pew Research Center, nearly 72 million Americans over the age of 50 use Facebook. And while the platform still has more users under 50 than over 50, Facebook remains the only social network for many older Americans.

However, that’s something the AARP wants to change. The nonprofit funded the creation of Senior Planet Community, a social media network that encourages users to join pre-existing groups around shared interests, including gardening, travel, fitness, food and technology. That way, it feels more like a stripped-down version of Reddit or a small collection of forums.

The social network was developed by an AARP affiliate, Older Adults Technology Services. OATS began teaching computer classes to older people in New York City and has expanded its physical footprint over the years. During the pandemic, those classes went online and Senior Planet Community grew out of that transition.

While the potential market for Senior Planet Community is huge, OATS has realistic expectations for its new platform. “I think eventually it would be great if we had a million people,” Tom Kamber, executive director of OATS, told Axios. “Right now I’d be really happy if 100,000 people put it to good use.”

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In addition to the focus on the over-50s, Senior Planet Community distinguishes itself from Facebook in that it is not commercial. The site has no advertising or membership fees. Unless the cost to run the site goes up significantly, that probably won’t be a big deal. AARP won’t say how much it has invested in Senior Planet Community, but the organization is famously well capitalized, with $2.3 billion in net assets and $1.7 billion in revenue in 2020.

At the moment the site is bare compared to Facebook. There is no mobile app yet, but OATS says it wants to develop one. In any case, the site is mobile-friendly and all the required features are there, including groups, photo sharing, @mentions, notifications, and direct messages.

As with all social networks, a looming question is how Senior Planet Community handles moderation. The site has a relatively comprehensive list of “house rules” that encourage users to “be courteous” and “cite your sources.” Posts about politics are not prohibited, but the rules state that posts must not stray from the topic and users must not “attack individuals, social, ethnic or political groups and figures”. Users can report posts they believe break the rules. Currently, the user base is relatively small, so monitoring should be easy.

“The moderator team monitors all comments, posts, and updates added to the platform from the backend. Direct messages are private, so we encourage all users to report any account that could be harassing them,” Suzanne Myklebust, OATS communications director, told Ars. “Once something is marked as reported, the moderating team will conduct an investigation to respond appropriately to the situation.”

Senior Planet Community has been in private beta for a month now, so there is already a slight backlog of content. Everything seems civilized… until now.

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