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WeChat

Grandparents and their private WeChat accounts: what are they up to?

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 July, 2018, 1:44pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 July, 2018, 9:30pm

Some young Chinese wanting to use the ubiquitous social media app WeChat to keep up with what their parents and grandparents are doing might be in for a surprise – a new study found that 1.35 million elderly users block their family members from viewing their WeChat Moments posts, a feature similar to Facebook’s Timeline.

While that only represents 2.7 per cent of WeChat users over the age of 55, the survey also found that the elderly are more likely to trust internet rumours over young people when it comes to news and information.

The study, released by Tencent Research Institute and Shenzhen University on Wednesday, also found that 14.6 per cent of the over 55 age group divide WeChat friends into different groups, which is a common practice among younger users.

As of August 2017, there were 50 million WeChat users aged over 55, up from 7.68 million a year earlier, according to the report. WeChat currently has a user base of 1 billion, larger than the populations of the European Union and Russia combined.

Driven by the increasing use of WeChat for everyday tasks from personal communications to bill payments, China’s elderly population has grown tech savvy. In 2012, only 5.2 per cent of Chinese over 55 were internet users, but that proportion surged to 16.6 per cent by 2017.

“We hope to change the impression of elderly people, especially in a digital society, and should know their demands and difficulties in connecting with the world,” said Si Xiao, head of the Tencent Research Institute. “Family members should be patient when introducing new technologies [to the elderly].”

Even though some older WeChat users are aware of the functions related to blocking and grouping of friends, they generally use the basic functions of the messaging app, such as liking posts from friends, and making voice and video calls, a function used by 85 per cent of the age group. The report found that 65 per cent use the app for information purposes, such as reading articles on WeChat official accounts, and that they are more likely to trust internet rumours than what they hear from young people. However, only half of the age group use WeChat for payment and money transferring.

Why China’s tech-savvy millennials are quitting WeChat

Compared with the younger generation who have 305 WeChat friends on average, the elderly age group have an average of 104 WeChat friends each, with 23.1 per cent of those family members.

Having fewer friends does not translate to older people spending a lot less time on the messaging app. Elderly people spend 1.37 hours per day on WeChat, only 30 minutes less than the 1.86 hours young people say they do.

Although messaging remains the dominant activity on mobile platforms, over the past year Chinese users have more than tripled the amount of time they spend watching short videos, according to the China Internet Report co-authored by the South China Morning Post, Abacus and 500 Startups..

Tik Tok, the popular short video app developed by Chinese tech firm Beijing Bytedance, said last Tuesday that the number of its global monthly active users has hit 500 million.

At the end of last year China had 241 million people over 60 years old, accounting for 17.3 per cent of the total population, according to official government data. That proportion is expected to grow to one third of the overall population by 2050.

The Tencent report based its finding on responses from 3,051 people from 956 families in 58 Chinese cities.