Facebook, which turned 18 last month, has developed something of a reputation for being the social network for older Americans. That reputation is not unearned—according to a Pew Research Center survey, nearly 72 million Americans over the age of 50 use Facebook. And while the platform still has more users under the age of 50 than over, Facebook remains many older Americans’ sole social network.
That’s something the AARP is looking to change, though. 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. In that way, it feels more like a pared-down version of reddit or a small collection of forums.
The social network was developed by an AARP affiliate, Older Adults Technology Services. OATS started out giving computer classes to older folks in New York City and has expanded its physical footprint over the years. During the pandemic, those classes moved online, and Senior Planet Community grew from that transition.
While the potential market for Senior Planet Community is enormous, OATS has realistic expectations for its new platform. “I do 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 to have 100,00 people using it well.”
Besides its focus on the 50-plus set, Senior Planet Community stands apart from Facebook in that it’s not commercial. The site has no advertising or membership fees. Unless the cost to run the site grows substantially, that probably won’t present much of a problem. AARP isn’t saying how much it has put into 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 present, the site is bare-bones when compared with Facebook. There’s no mobile app yet, though OATS says they’re hoping to develop one. The site is mobile-friendly at least, and all the requisite features are there, including groups, photo sharing, @-mentions, notifications, and direct messaging.
As with all social networks, a looming question is how Senior Planet Community will handle moderation. The site has a relatively extensive list of “house rules” that encourages users to “be courteous” and “cite your sources.” Posts about politics aren’t forbidden, but the rules say posts can’t stray off-topic, and users can’t “attack individuals, social, ethnic, or political groups and figures.” Users can report posts they think violate the rules. Currently, the user base is relatively small, so policing it should be straightforward.
“The moderating team keeps an eye on all comments, posts, and updates added to the platform from the backend. Private messages are private, so we encourage all users to report any account that could be harassing them,” Suzanne Myklebust, OATS’s director of communications, told Ars. “Once something has been marked as reported, the moderating team will conduct an investigation to respond to the situation appropriately.”
Senior Planet Community has been in private beta for a month, so there’s already a small backlog of content. Everything seems civilized… so far.