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Social Media Boosts Engagement, Advocacy


By Jill Gambon

Jane Ahern-DeFillippi, public policy junkie, closely tracks bills in Washington, D.C., or on Beacon Hill that could affect her community, especially its older residents.

As a volunteer legislative advocate for AARP Massachusetts, Ahern-DeFillippi also posts and shares updates daily on Facebook. She helps keep others informed about health care reform, for example, and upcoming classes or events.

She became a Facebook “power user” after participating in a social media workshop offered by AARP Massachusetts. In the class, she learned about privacy and security settings and how to find and share information.

The AARP advocate uses the social network not only to stay in touch with family and friends but also to stay on top of what’s going on in the world—and to influence others through her posts.

“The social media classes help foster continued participation in life,” said Ahern-DeFillippi, 70, a retired nurse from Melrose. “There’s a wealth of information available, so much that people can learn.”

AARP Massachusetts is offering more of the popular social media workshops at the Worcester Public Library on June 22 and the Framingham Public Library on June 29. Each starts at 10:30 a.m.

Ahern-DeFillippi was among about 500 participants in social media workshops held three years ago, said Carol Brooks Ball, digital media director for AARP Massachusetts. The response was overwhelming.

Now Facebook members such as Ahern-DeFillippi can respond quickly when a budget hearing or important vote is imminent. In March, during the national debate over the Affordable Care Act, advocates found that Facebook was an effective way to mobilize opposition to a House bill to repeal the health care law.

“Facebook helps us get our message out there,” said Brooks Ball. “With the workshops, we are looking to see an uptick in engagement.”

A Pew Research report released last November found that 62 percent of adults 65 and older who are online are Facebook users. That was a 14 percent jump in just one year.

Privacy a big concern
The upcoming workshops, called Facebook 101, are designed for people who have accounts but are still novices. Maybe they are reading through friends’ posts but not commenting or sharing anything. Or maybe they need to learn how to post photos.

“Some people are missing out. It’s all about engaging with other people,” Brooks Ball said. “This engagement can help prevent social isolation, something AARP works to help eliminate.”

Workshops will also cover privacy concerns—one of the biggest barriers that prevent people from actively using Facebook, she said.

Ahern-DeFillippi said being active on social media and participating in online discussions about current issues have broadened her sphere of influence. “I feel part of a community. It’s about personal growth.”

She has also participated in AARP’s free TEK workshops, which explain how to use iPads, tablets and other devices.

To join a free Facebook 101 workshop, you should have a Facebook profile and know your log-in credentials. Go to for more information.

Information on TEK workshops can be found at or by calling 866-740-6947 toll-free.

Jill Gambon is a writer living in West Newbury, Mass.

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