5 Things Boomers Will Just Never Understand About Social Media (Explained, Because We Love You)

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A smiling Asian female hugging her mother while they are reading something online using their black smartphone.
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Dear Boomer Parents: We love you as much as you love the nightly news. But just like you can’t grasp the millennial and gen-z willy-nilly attitude toward grammar rules, you also will simply never understand certain things about social media. And who’s to blame you? It’s kinda like the internet is a never ending inside joke for the young…and if you’re not in on the joke, you might as well be conversing via carrier pigeon. For instance, if social media is so essential, why do we need digital detoxes? If social media is supposedly social, why does your adult child bristle when you ask if he saw your post? Here, things boomers don’t understand about social media, explained. 

1. #Hashtags 

Hashtags (a word, or string of words with no spaces, preceded by a pound sign) are used for search purposes. For instance, a National Geographic photographer might tag her post of migrating dolphins with “#oceanphotography” so that the post is categorized with other posts that have the same hashtag. Folks caught on to the fact that, with a specific enough hashtag, you could make a kind of public shared folder—hence, the rise (and fall) of the wedding hashtag (#troyandgabriella4eva). From here, some started using hashtags in a post-ironic way, i.e. too long, weird and purposefully pointless (#isthatnicholascageornotpleaseletmeknow). So is a hashtag for organization purposes? Are they public? Private? Are they only for ocean photography? Is it a search tool or a vehicle for puns?

This brings us to Gail (a very boomer name) ready and raring to use hashtags, just as the internet has deemed them cheugy. Hence, we wind up with a post like this:

Image: Cloudy image of a coffee cup with lipstick stain

Caption: #Everyone #knows #not #to #talk #to #me #until #I’ve #had #my #coffee. #gail #loves #coffee #whalewatchingwhere?

2. You Don’t *Need* to Engage with Friends of Friends

…Otherwise known as strangers. Ie: You don’t need to friend the gal who tagged your daughter in a post or respond to your cousin’s coworker’s comment with a, "Great point, [insert person you’ve never met,] I also think that sunset is [fire emoji].” Of course, if you’re on a public post inviting a dialogue about climate change or your favorite Oscars looks, go at it. But otherwise, keep your trap shut, as it’s embarrassing for your near and dear. Additionally, social media can be a dangerous place, and one wrong tap and suddenly you’ve sent a sh*t-talking screenshot to the exact person you’re sh*t talking about. All the more reason to be extra careful about who you’re engaging with and where. Which brings us to…

3. People Can See What You’ve Been Doing

Maybe you wanted your 254 followers to see how massive the Mai Tais are at your local tiki bar, but remember that people (even those you don’t want) can follow your internet trail. They can see what you liked, who you followed and where you commented. Have the same username on YouTube as you do on Instagram and Reddit? Great. Now your boss found out through a quick Google search that you run a message board about how much you hate your job. Did you like a controversial post because the lady who runs your canasta club shared it? Eek, now you’ve offended half the people you know. 

Psst: There are lots of privacy settings on social platforms to make sure only the people you want to see your posts can see what you're up to. (Social media needs boundaries just like IRL interpersonal relations!).

4. Bots and Scammers

Social media is riddled with nefarious actors—and no, not just Trandon, your daughter’s ex-boyfriend (who’s an actor). Bots are NON-HUMAN (all-caps emphasis for the folks in the back) programs designed for both banal things like the bloating of social clout as well as straight-up malevolent things like stoking political and social rifts. When the number of followers a person has does not correlate with the engagement (or likes) a person is getting, chances are they bought a bunch of followers (or bots). And when you come across a user with an uncanny photo and no real history leaving provocative comments, it’s probably a bot too. What to do? Do not engage. The same goes for scammers, aka people using aliases to commit fraud. Get a DM from @Instagram_President_CEO saying that they need your social security number to keep your account protected? Hmmm…probably a scammer. Moral of the story: don’t get conned into giving your retirement savings to John Hope who “reconnected” with you through your high school reunion Facebook Group. 

Screenshot of Kathy HIlton commenting on her husband's Instagram post.

5. Social Media Comments Are Not Texts

Otherwise known as the Kathy Hilton Rule of Social Media, remember that even if you want a message to be private, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be. If you comment on a public post or page, everyone can see it. It’s dangerously easy to accidentally send a private message meant as a DM to everyone you know (via a story or even a post). Be careful what content you’re sharing and make sure you know where and to whom it’s going! Otherwise, you might wind up like Kathy Hilton, leaving personal comments on her husband’s public Instagram account for the world to see. 


Executive Editor, Frazzled Mom, Bravo-Holic

Dara Katz is PureWow's Executive Editor, focusing on relationships, sex, horoscopes, travel and pets. Dara joined PureWow in 2016 and now dresses so much better. A lifestyle...