Mountain View Voice

News - August 31, 2012

Facebook's oldest user keeps the conversation polite

Menlo Park woman meets Zuckerberg, tours social network's new campus

by Nick Veronin

At a little over a century in age, Menlo Park resident Florence Detlor is the oldest known Facebook user. The title, which she pays little mind, has earned her a tour of the social networking company's massive headquarters, and a meet-and-greet with the company's billionaire founder, who at 28 years old is 73 years her junior.

"I was very impressed," Ms. Detlor says, referring to Mark Zuckerberg. "He was very pleasant and official. Very nice."

Shortly after noon on Aug. 22, Ms. Detlor toured the Facebook campus along with a group of officials from Little House in Menlo Park, the Peninsula Volunteers-run senior activity center, of which she is a member. In fact, it was at Little House where the 101-year-old Ms. Detlor learned the ropes of the popular social networking site, and it was through Little House that this trip was organized.

Every month Little House offers interactive Facebook classes for seniors to learn how to use the site, post pictures, add friends and play social games. The lessons are taught by a volunteer Facebook employee.

Ms. Detlor's interest in signing up for Facebook was piqued by her family. She recalls how family members would often talk about using the site, occasionally suggesting that Ms. Detlor give it a try.

The idea was not all that far-fetched. While Ms. Detlor admits she isn't highly tech-savvy, she is far from computer-illiterate. The centenarian got her first personal computer in 1999 — around the time Mr. Zuckerberg was entering his freshman year of high school.

Ms. Detlor's timeline indicates that she joined Facebook on Aug. 19, 2009. However, she says she has been using the site for only one year. Her first picture post is a shared photo, originally uploaded by her niece on Ms. Detlor's 100th birthday.

Officials from the social network confirm there are no known older users than Ms. Detlor.

Ms. Detlor was born in Canada, and moved to Los Angeles shortly thereafter. "Not a moment too soon, I believe," she says.

From L.A. she moved north to Menlo Park. She remembers the exact date she first moved into the home she still lives in to this day: Dec. 9, 1955. She loves her "beautiful Menlo Park," she says, even if she doesn't "like the way they run it sometimes."

That's about the most political Ms. Detlor gets, at least on Facebook. She says she likes to limit her social wall feed to polite discourse and pleasant small talk.

Scrolling through her feed there are earnest questions, such as, "Is a garage sale a good way to shop?" There are also positive proclamations that also serve as a call to discuss positive experiences had in church: "I heard a thought-provoking sermon this morning. I can work on that all week." An Aug. 5 post from Ms. Detlor reads: "Isn't it good that we don't have to face politics on Facebook???"

It may be surprising for the more experienced Facebook user that Ms. Detlor is able to avoid politics within Facebook, but the truth is she is fairly discerning when it comes to "friending."

"I just want (the conversation) to be meaningful," she says, "and to give back a message that is meaningful." When she sees posts that are negative, strange or overtly partisan, she has found a simple solution.

"Un-friend!" she exclaims, from her wheelchair, as she sits in a meeting space deep within the labyrinthine Facebook campus.

According to an official with Little House, the Facebook class is a big hit. "The ability to be able to connect and reconnect with long-lost friends, engage with them, keep up with their family and kids and just be able to link up with their families" is what makes the course so popular, according to Kwesi Wilson, marketing and communications coordinator for Little House.

Mr. Wilson says that the class has grown in popularity, largely due to word of mouth, as Little House members tell their peers about how much they have enjoyed using the site. "They pick it up quickly," he says. "It's really easy to use. And as soon as they start clicking and get in there, start uploading pictures, they're in."

Mr. Wilson pointed to a recent USA Today article featuring Ms. Detlor that explores the use of social networks by senior citizens. That article, "Facebook 101: Seniors learn to use the social network," cites a recent Pew study that indicates all social network users over the age of 50 use the technology predominantly to stay in touch with family.

That's what Mr. Wilson says he uses it for — staying up to speed with his family living in Ghana.

The article also cited another recent Pew study that found 33 percent of senior citizens on the Web used social media sites in 2011. That's up from 13 percent just two years prior.

Loneliness may be a significant driver behind this uptick in social media use by the elderly, Mr. Wilson speculates. "What they (the seniors) find, is that they're able to keep in touch with their children, their friends, so (they) virtually are keeping in touch with everyone," he says.

Ms. Detlor says her friends would benefit from the contact they could experience through Facebook, but also notes that many of her friends have passed away.

This fact may shed some light on why she isn't all that shy about engaging with complete strangers online — so long as they remain polite, of course.

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