Boomer bias: Half of posts on TikTok about older adults spread ageist stereotypes

SINGAPORE — A new study reveals that half of all TikTok posts about baby boomers perpetuate ageist stereotypes. Moreover, researchers warn that this is only widening the hostile divide between younger and older generations.

The predominantly teen and young adult user base of TikTok must not misrepresent older people, especially as the global population continues to age, argue researchers from the National University of Singapore. The team analyzed 673 TikTok videos, marked with the hashtags #Boomer and/or #OkBoomer, collectively garnering over 5.4 billion views.

Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are now between 58 and 75 years-old. They come after the Silent Generation and precede Generation X. Given that TikTok, launched in 2016, is rapidly outpacing social media rivals like Facebook and Twitter in popularity among the youth, it offers insight into young people’s attitudes towards the older generations.

The researchers categorized these videos into nine topics, including perceived warmth or coldness and the wealth gap. The study found that half of the videos cast boomers in a negative light. Negative stereotypes of older adults, including portraying them as slow, irrelevant, and incompetent, were more likely to be linked to videos about the older generation’s values and beliefs, negative encounters with older adults, or perceived antagonism from older adults towards the young.

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Photo by Amanda Vick on Unsplash

Videos portraying older adults as warm-hearted were 43 percent less likely to contain negative stereotypes. Positive stereotypes encompassed depictions of boomers as generous and kind. Over half of the videos suggested that younger people perceive older adults as having values and beliefs incompatible with their own, particularly on issues related to gender, sexuality, and race.

Many videos featured younger users recounting instances where they felt belittled by older adults because of their youth. In these reenactments, they expressed their frustration at being labeled as oversensitive, narcissistic, or excessively reliant on technology. Of all the analyzed videos, 49.3 percent contained negative ageist stereotypes.

The researchers emphasize the need to understand how older individuals are depicted on TikTok, given that social media use can influence the well-being and quality of life of older people and promote intergenerational solidarity.

The study is published in the journal PLoS ONE.

South West News Service writer Jim Leffman contributed to this report.

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