Ageism in the Media : Online Representations of Older People

Sammanfattning: Ageism is a social problem that has harmful effects on the wellbeing of older people and needs to be tackled. It is pervasive and evident in the media (e.g., films, television, print and social media). Despite the fact that non-individual actors have adopted social media on a large scale in contemporary society, the social media representation of older people generated by those actors has remained insufficiently studied. This thesis aims to increase our knowledge of social media representations of older people and improve our understanding of ageism in the media. The knowledge obtained from this research can be used to inform policy and practice in terms of mitigating ageism in the media.This thesis consists of four articles, which examine social media representations of older people generated by local authorities and media companies, with a particular focus on exploring how older people are represented in social media and how social media content about older people is produced. Articles 1, 3 and 4 present empirical analyses of social media texts about older people generated by Swedish local authorities and Chinese media companies, serving to identify the representations that may lead to ageism. Article 2 offers an empirical analysis of the production process for social media photos of older people within local authorities, serving to explore the ways in which stereotypical third-age representations are generated. This thesis employs the methods of content analysis and thematic analysis to examine representations of older people on various social media platforms (i.e., local-authority-managed Facebook pages, Tencent Video as a video streaming platform and Sina Weibo as a microblogging platform). It also employs the method of thematic analysis to analyse interview transcripts concerning the production of social media photos of older people within local authorities.The results of the thesis reveal the complexity and nuances in the representation process and the meanings generated by those representations of older people on social media. More specifically, the thesis illuminates three ways in which the social media representations of older people lead to ageism: (1) the stereotyping of older people through signifying practice; (2) the generation and negotiation of the meanings surrounding older people among social actors with different power relations; and (3) the use of formal and informal rules within social media in the representation activities of mediatized institutions. A synthesis of the findings from the four empirical articles indicates a process of establishing the stereotypical third-age representation as a convention for social media, which can be seen as institutional ageism. The synthesis also indicates that this stereotypical third-age representation appears to be prominent in different contexts and across the various types of social media under examination. In this regard, it is necessary to promote knowledge and raise awareness about the risks associated with such representations of older people in the media. This thesis deepens our understanding of ageism in the media and generates evidence-based policy recommendations for media producers to inspire more thoughtful and reflexive media representations of older people and later life.

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