In September 2012, Facebook topped more than one billion users (yes, billion, with a 'B'). And the mega-site keeps growing, sometimes in unexpected ways. It's now not uncommon for a "youngster" to see their grandparents on Facebook - something that previously was a rarity.
Nearly two-thirds of people aged 50-64, and 43 percent of those aged 65+, are using Facebook now, according to a Pew Research Center study released in August. According to an article published in 2010 on seniornet.org, hundreds of classes each year train senior citizens on how to use Facebook, with 1 in 5 seniors using it to log on for an hour on any given day. In 2010, the oldest person on Facebook was Anne D. Krum, who was 105 years old at the time.
New York Daily News reported on the Pew study shortly after its release: "Use by 50-to-64-year-olds has seen a ten-fold increase since February 2005, going from 6 percent to 60 percent, while the over 65s, who didn't come to social media until August 2006 (1 percent) are also moving into the social media age."
Seminar attendees listen as social media expert Jerry Frear points out features on his Facebook page during the Introduction to Facebook seminar held at the James V. Library. Frear taught the basics of using Facebook. Future classes about Facebook will be announced on the James V. Brown website, in the Sun-Gazette and the Brown newsletter.
Though these age groups are now using these websites, many are uncertain just how to use them. This new use of social media among these age groups has prompted many programs and seminars like the "Facebook 101" seminar that the James V. Brown Library held on Nov. 13.
"Our target is anyone who wants to understand the basics of Facebook. The fastest growing segment of Facebook users is seniors," said Jerry Frear, the social media expert who instructed the seminar and frequently helps the library.
Including the Facebook seminar, Frear has lead seminars in e-book marketing, social media, advanced social media, blogging and more. He is the director of new media for a local advertising agency and has been involved with the Internet since the early 1990s.
"When I say that Jerry Frear is a social media expert, I say it wholeheartedly as an instructor, he knows his material very well and is an engaging speaker," said Shawn Newcomer, adult programming coordinator at the library.
The seminar had several interested people in attendance who eagerly asked questions as Frear covered a variety of topics, starting with a basic history of Facebook and setting up an account, and then discussing everything from friend requests, privacy, profile editing, status updates, photo uploading, messaging, liking, commenting and more.
"Why does it double up like that?" one attendee asked, of links appearing multiple times in a newsfeed. Attendees sat at tables and viewed Frear's own Facebook page on a large projector as Frear guided them through different areas of the site.
The most prominent concern was privacy; privacy and social media is an ongoing national (and international) discussion. Who sees what you put online and what can they do with the information?
Thus, Frear gave his own guided suggestions as to how to get the most privacy and security with Facebook settings, offering detailed answers and explanations.
"The less I can make it easy for someone to find me, the more secure I feel," he said to attendees.
During a separate interview, he explained why he enjoys social media but also some of its challenges: "Social media is a great tool for connecting with other people. The challenge with it is deciding who you want to communicate with and how you manage your time on these sites."
Less than half of the seminar attendees actually had a Facebook account.
Frear described a Facebook as a digital bulletin board, noting that users will see things that appeal to them and some things that do not. He discussed how to minimize seeing the amount of things a user doesn't like. He also, jokingly, was sure to inform attendees that at some point they'll likely see Grumpy Cat if they choose to join Facebook.
Newcomer is grateful that the library is there to educate the public on such important topics.
"We are fortunate to be able to offer seminars such as 'Facebook 101,' " Newcomer said.
A "Facebook 201" seminar was requested after "Facebook 101" by attendees who hope to learn the more complex sides of Facebook, like how to create events, enable mobile and more.
"We think it's important to offer these programs to the public. The mission of the James V. Brown Library is to be the place to go to learn, connect and grow. These programs seek to meet that mission by fulfilling a variety of community needs," Newcomer said.
Since Facebook is growing and doesn't appear to be going away any time soon, the site may used as an opportunity to seek out friends and loved ones to catch up, or, as Frear specifies, it may be used in a variety of other ways.
"Facebook is a powerful way to stay connected to the people, causes, organizations and the news you care about. When it is used properly, it can enhance your relationships and the quality of those relationships," Frear said.