Age discrimination on the rise in social media during COVID-19

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The COVID-19 pandemic has created a perfect storm for age discrimination on social media.

According to a new study, nearly one out of five Twitter posts related to older adults and COVID-19, involving jokes or memes contained negative sentiment.

The University of Michigan study analysed nearly 83,000 pieces of Twitter data that covered 119 days of the coronavirus outbreak from 23 January to 20 May.

About 16 per cent of the tweets contained ageist content, with most of them hinting at elements of senicide or killing the elderly.

The ageist content peaked on 11 March, which was when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

Associate Professor Xiaoling Xiang, lead author of the study, said that the proportion of tweets that implied the life of older adults was less valuable than other people rose considerably as the pandemic progressed around the globe.

“These findings provide evidence that more directly implicate social media as an online platform that reproduces and reinforces existing ageism in society,” Assoc. Prof. Xiang said.

A YourLifeChoices poll of more than 1000 members on ageism found that 67 per cent said that they had experienced some form of ageism.

When asked what form it took, 29 per cent said ‘being ignored’, 21 per cent said ‘treated rudely’ and 13 per cent said ‘being insulted’.

Around three-quarters of the tweets that contained jokes or ridicule targeted older adults, and around half of these were ‘death jokes’.

Researchers said an examination of top words in tweets revealed subtle forms of ageism, which are not as extreme as senicide but harmful, nonetheless.

‘Elderly’ was the most commonly used term related to older adults in the data, which is often used negatively and associated with frailty, vulnerability and senility, according to the study.

Words such as ‘vulnerable,’ ‘immunocompromised’ and ‘sick’ often appear next to terms referring to older adults, whereas ‘young’ and ‘healthy’ appeared together.

“The words associated with vulnerability appeared both in tweets that showed apathy toward older adults and in tweets that advocated for the protection of older adults,” Assoc. Prof. Xiang said. “Language choices are critical to social identities.”

There were some glimpses of solidarity with older people in some tweets.

Some tweets, for instance, asked whether people would be just as anxious to end the lockdown if COVID-19 was killing children instead of older adults and called for everyone’s patience, citing that every life is precious. Some tweets also used the #ageism to raise awareness.

Do you use Twitter? Have you seen jokes making fun of older people dying during the pandemic? Do you think this is typical ‘gallows humour’ or something more sinister?

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Written by Ben

44 Comments

Total Comments: 44
  1. 0
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    Well I think that what we do need to address is the use of the terms “ism” and “ist” are used as weapons in our present culture.

    The simple question is whether claims under the terms for example ageism, sexism, racism, multiculturalism, ( substitute ‘ist’ for ‘ism’ wherever) are used as weapons to gain privilege by claims of discrimination related to every one of such idealism. Claims that allow vindictive persecution of your targets.

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      Hello “Blank”
      Don’t know who you are, but your post is full of ismism.
      Are you a ismist? (LOL)

      Jokes aside, I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiments.
      Weapons/ammunition also used by the politically correct control-freaks.

  2. 0
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    I don’t use any of these media platforms and never will. I believe ageism will be around for some time because it has been here for hundreds of years. To-days young will be oldies in a few years so history repeats it’s self.

    • 0
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      Yes, It has been around for a while but has become more prevalent in the last 30 years. This is a sign now of peoples selfishness in today’s age of money money money. People are becoming more and more callous in their thoughts. Bigots (Like Trump) are being allowed to take positions of authority swaying people to their side because of false claims and manipulating the systems. People with more money than they can spend in dozens of lifestyles just want more. We have seen a prime example of that with the recent Palmer saga prepared to screw an entire state into poverty. For what?. What’s more, we have governments seemingly approving his actions. This sort of mindset has trickled down and diseased the population. This has now shown up in remarks by people who basically do not care about anyone except themselves.

      This world is in a mess.

    • 0
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      Spot on comment Wstaton

  3. 0
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    “Isma” have indeed gone mad! No more so than the NSW sponsored age discrimination of older drivers, despite most older drivers being more law abiding, responsible and courteous than drivers in other age groups. I support regular testing of driving skills and knowledge, but not when it is directed at only one group – we older drivers. Driving is not a right to be taken away when one reaches a certain age, it is a responsibility no matter what age the driver is.
    For too long have older drivers been subjected to the NSW government sponsored agism, a policy not in place in any other state or territory in Australia.

    • 0
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      I agree with you

    • 0
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      Well here you are.

      The study finds that older drivers, who represent 15 percent of all licensed drivers, cause 7 percent of all two-car accidents (both fatal and nonfatal). Younger drivers, on the other hand, who represent 13 percent of all licensed drivers, cause 43 percent of all two-car accidents.

      Here’s another one.

      Drivers 65 and older are 16 percent likelier than adult drivers (those 25–64 years old) to cause an accident, and they pose much less risk to the public than do drivers under 25, who are 188 percent likelier than adult drivers to cause an accident. However, older drivers are highly vulnerable to fatal injury in a crash. These findings offer little support for stricter licensing policies targeting older drivers but offer some support for policies to improve driver safety for seniors.

    • 0
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      Spot on.

      Persecution of older drivers is not supported by statistics and common sense tells us that when folk start to get a bit dotty they drive within what they themselves know to be their limits of capability.

      Safety is a frame of mind.

      Aggressiveness and excessive speed (both much more prevalent amongst the young and middle aged) are the bigger road safety issues.

      The way it is now you are scared to go to the doctor with a boil on your bum in case (s)he takes away your drivers licence as a result. Ridiculous. And a lot of doctors are the aggressive Maserati etc owners who get impatient when stuck behind anyone going too slowly for their liking for safety’s sake.

    • 0
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      And here’s another one. Try renting a car and see just how your age effects the price tag.

  4. 0
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    There are a few “rules” I have learned when telling/writing jokes. Firstly, “don’t punch down”. This means don’t make jokes about people less fortunate than you. Also don’t make jokes about a group that you are not part of that is a sensitive topic. Thirdly, if you do bend these rules, the more sensitive the topic the cleverer the joke must be and the target is not the group that the joke is about but the rest of us or another group you are part of. So if the joke about the elderly is clever and written by an older person it should be ok. There are plenty in this category and us oldies find them really funny. If it is written by a young person it should be very clever and/or actually mocking younger people. Hope this makes sense.

  5. 0
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    “Do you use Twitter? Have you seen jokes making fun of older people dying during the pandemic? Do you think this is typical ‘gallows humour’ or something more sinister?”

    No, we don’t use Twitter and anyone who uses a survey taken from those anonymous keyboard cowards is not providing a sensible outlook on any subject. We haven’t seen any tasteless jokes on elderly people dying from the pandemic. We have seen jokes about elderly people dying and a lot of these types of jokes have been around for years. Jokes about life, death, marriage, old, young, gay, straight or any number of personal topics have been around since humour was invented. All jokes, by their very nature, are made at the expense of others and suddenly in this PC world we are being led to believe that they are “new” and personally offensive. All I can add is to suggest that those precious princesses get over it and accept that jokes are made to entertain, not offend. Tactful people will always know their audience before telling jokes.

  6. 0
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    A general statement;
    but I see those outspoken activist types as close to who and/or what they are criticising.
    On the ragged edge of sanity.
    Be it ageism, racism, or any other ‘ism.

  7. 0
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    At my age of 83 this has become one of my pet subjects. I hear and see ‘jokes’ about elderly people losing their memory and wonder why ‘political correctness’ does not include this sort of thing as taboo even above remarks involving race or colour. There is nothing funny in seeing memory loss in loved ones, there is nothing funny in these remarks causing an otherwise unnecessary foreboding re one’s own destiny. Worse still is the effect on those who are unfortunate enough to be losing their memory to start thinking they are worth less and less as time goes on.

    • 0
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      Humour – it’s all in the eye of the beholder I imagine – dependent upon your outlook on life in general and an ability to laugh at others – or oneself.

      Nothing funny about anyone stepping through the open doors of a lift-well on the 10th story of a building only to find the lift is still in the basement, but most people will still have a laugh at the expense of the poor victim when told about it.

      We ever loose the ability to see the funny side to anything, it’ll be a sad day for the human animal.

  8. 0
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    I don’t care what words they use, it does not affect me now but it did in the past. If you are over 45, good luck trying to get a job. You are ‘persona non grata and it is a disgrace. Action should be taken to ensure that mature age workers receive equal opportunities.

    • 0
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      I hadn’t come across this ageism malarky until the end of last year. The landlady made some snide comment about the vacant room in the place where I was renting. She said it was difficult to fill, as tenants did not want to share a house with an older person.

      I decided to move and advertised through a well-known flat mate web site, and after almost two weeks, was not having any luck.

      Out of the blue, a kind gentleman called me and told me that he knows what sort of problems I’m having, and offered me a room for rent.

      I’d have thought that taking on a house-trained pensioner would have had more luck than say a teenage student.

  9. 0
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    The rise of ageist comments on social media is not surprising when you have a US president making age related insults and put downs about Biden on a daily basis, even though there is only a 3 1/2 year difference in their ages.

    • 0
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      I do not support Trump but the isms levelled at him are worse. Matter of fact the whole US elections are about ‘isms’. Just like Australia and all democracies of the present world.

      The ‘White Male Ism’ is the most prevalent of all. Women with their feminist ‘ism’, generated the cultural framework for all of the isms to follow with their relentless bigotry towards their identity targets..

      And the one identity cast adrift and subject to relentless ‘isms’, is white males, abstained from any accountability by the ‘ism’ flatulaters. All with ‘discrimination’ indemnity. Make no mistake ‘isms’ and ‘ists’ are the framework for modern day western democratic Societies.

  10. 0
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    I’ve been pretty horrified reading many of the comments on social media from younger people. They’re constantly making comments like the death rate of ‘elderly’ people shouldn’t be counted in Covid figures because they’re so old they would have probably died anyway, why waste money trying to save them in hospital, they’ll die anyway. Even heard them say paying pensions is robbing them robbing their future. Many seem to have a very distorted view of reality and forget they’ll grow old too. Meanwhile they’ll still know where to go when they need to access the bank of Mum and Dad because they want everything shiny and new, not like our generation who made do with secondhand, sheets at the windows until we could afford curtains and knew how to save.

    • 0
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      Well written. The younger generation seem to have forgotten that the older generation fought for them to have a better life and world. Many of the elderly population today are helping to pay for the younger generation in many ways, in knowledge, money, hard work, hardship (going without things so that others may benefit). Many of the elderly have seen the effects of war (WW2), Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan etc. as well as internal wars within countries. They have also seen the effects of polio, diphtheria, thalidomide, and many other diseases or drug induced medical problems. Not all of the younger generation are negative towards the older generation, there are many of them who care.

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