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David Sovka: Social Media 101 for those whose teeth are older than the internet

There are real benefits for older people when it comes to social media — for example, connecting with friends who aren’t dead yet, but still owe you money.
Allie Pribula, a former elementary school teacher in the Philadelphia suburbs, now makes TikTok makeup videos. TikTok is like YouTube, only for people with short attention spans and a penchant for teenage dance moves, writes David Sovka. MATT ROURKE, AP

It’s hard to believe the internet is more than 30 years old. I don’t mean to suggest that’s old-old — quite the opposite given how many people now exclusively rely on it for looking up directions, ordering lunch and ­trolling Justin Trudeau no matter what he says or does. My teeth are older than the internet.

Thirty years ago, only 1% of the global population was online. This year that number climbed to 64.4%, or 5.1 billion people (to be fair, two billion of them are my mother, busy on various right-wing nutbar conspiracy websites).

How we use the internet has dramatically changed over those 30 years. For example, 92% of all internet users now access it through a mobile phone, not a ­computer.

That means roughly 4.32 billion people are ­currently ignoring other people to check sports scores and ­softcore TikTok videos instead of

a) working;

b) answering direct questions from a teacher/wife/­uniformed police officer; and

c) keeping an eye on the road.

Another change is how our machines are getting more internety: smartwatches, doorbell cameras, thermostats, heart monitors, printers, and fridges that make discouraging comments when you reach for another beer.

This “internet of things” means the average person now has three connected devices buzzing in cyberspace at any one time, and the average high school teacher now has a 10-month-long stress migraine.

After 30 years of interneting, we have also learned just how much we really, really like social media, no matter how bad it makes us feel about ourselves.

Last year, 375,000 new users joined social-media ­platforms every single day. Today, 92% of all internet users rely on social media platforms to:

• Share photos of their cats,

• Brag about cycling trips around Europe, and

• Criticize things they don’t know about.

If you’ve never used social media, you might be ­wondering why you should start. Me, too.

But let’s move on from that loaded question because, honestly, you’re never too old to wonder whatever ­happened to that girl you liked in the sixth grade?

Also, there are real benefits for older people when it comes to social media:

• Reconnecting with friends who aren’t dead yet, but still owe you money,

• Keeping up to date with irrelevant non-local, non-Canadian news, and

• Embarrassing grandchildren with unhinged views on politics, religion, music and the price of White Spot burgers on B.C. Ferries.


Facebook is the most widely known and well-­established social-media platform in the world. It’s been around since 2004, when it was founded by Mark ­Zuckerberg, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer and Armie Hammer. Worldwide, there are more than three billion active Facebook users. Canadians are the most active Facebook users in the world per capita, with more than 29 million of us sharing conspiracy theories, spying on exes and selling our old crap.

X (formerly known as Twitter)

Twitter might not have as many users as Facebook, but what it lacks in numbers it makes up for in ALL-CAPS CRAZY! People just say what they think, no matter how mean or how — what’s the phrase I’m looking for? — “factually alternative.” On the plus side is its speed. Tweets have a character limit, making them easy to read and write quickly, especially when you are pressed for time because, say, you are under multiple criminal indictments. I should mention Twitter is now called “X” because last year, a tech billionaire had a $44-­billion temper tantrum. Don’t worry! He will replenish his losses by charging you via his many other business interests.


Instagram started out as the perfect forum to shut grandma up with a couple pictures of the kids at ­soccer practice. Unfortunately, Instagram is now owned by Facebook, so it’s pretty much the same thing: a long series of advertisements, photo memes and videos that AI calculates you will spend hours and hours ­scrolling through. Worse, the AI is pretty good, so you will indeed spend hours and hours scrolling through.


Pinterest provides an online place for its users to “pin” images and website links to a virtual bulletin board. It is a good place for people who like to visually plan projects such as a new hairdo or a bank robbery. I do not use Pinterest myself, because I am a man and never plan anything.


YouTube is the world’s largest video-sharing ­website, with an estimated 2.7-billion active users. On it,­ ­anybody can upload videos about anything except naughty topics such as pornography, drug use and ­ethnic cleansing.


TikTok is like YouTube, only for people with short attention spans and a penchant for teenage dance moves. You will hate it if your teeth are older than the internet. On the other hand, the Chinese government loves TikTok because the platform allows them to spy on us while giving them a strong sense of moral superiority: Aiyah, what is WRONG with the West?

So which social media platform to choose? There are many with more than 100 million daily users: LinkedIn, Reddit, WhatsApp, WeChat, Tumblr, Telegram, ­SnapChat, Douyin, Kuaishou, Weibo, QQ, Quora, Qzone, Tieba, Xiaohongshu, and more. I know your favourite isn’t on this list – I left it off to see how closely you are paying attention.

If you believe the 30-year-old promise that the internet is a virtual “village common” — a safe space for gathering and celebrating and sharing — you have a lot of choice for where to hang out online.

If you don’t believe that, you may want to give it another 30 years.


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