Instagran: meet Thailand’s new generation of over-60s influencers

Government scheme links older people with university students who provide mentoring to develop online skills

Somsak Jiteurtragool stands in a sun speckled field, saplings lined in rows behind him. “Hello viewers, today I’m bringing you to Principal Uncle and Auntie’s Forest Garden plot,” he says. A tour begins, and the camera pans up and down various plants: from red wood to makha and mahogany.

He tells the camera that his 600 seedlings, which cost just 27 baht [0.73 USD] each when he planted them five years ago, could be worth up to 10,000 baht [271.19USD] per plant in 10 years’ time.

Somsak, a 62-year-old retired headteacher from central Thailand, isn’t your typical social media influencer. Yet his Facebook video on growing trees as an investment has been viewed by almost 8,000 people, and his Facebook page dedicated to gardening, set up six months ago, already has more than 900 followers.

Somsak Jiteurtragool with one of his saplings. Photograph: Facebook

Somsak is one of about 50 people who took part in a digital training scheme designed for over 60s by the Thai Media Fund, a government agency. The project, which will soon accept a new intake of students, aims to help Thailand’s rapidly ageing population use social media more effectively, and to generate their own content.

Most older Thai people are already using social media, says Somsak, but they don’t consider themselves as content creators. “As the older generations, we should get up and give it a go,” he says. “Do something that you like, present something that you are enthusiastic about.

“Our knowledge can be valuable to society. The younger generation can learn from us,” he adds.

Almost 78% of Thailand’s population is online, according to a report by DataReportal and the creative agency We Are Social, while a 2021 estimate suggested that Thais spent almost three hours every day on social media.

This is likely to include many from Thailand’s older age groups, says Dr Dhanakorn Srisooksai, chief executive officer of Thai Media Fund. “We are entering the digital era with elderly people, more and more elderly are using media right now, but with limited skills,” says Dhanakorn. Forecasts suggest more than 30% of Thailand’s population will be aged over 60 by 2035.

Older users tend to face different risks online, Dhanakorn adds. While online bullying and addiction to social media are the biggest problems affecting young people online in Thailand, older generations are more vulnerable to scams and disinformation, he says. “They might believe some sort of fake news about vaccines, for example, that it can have an effect on their health … or some fake news about a certain diet or about a nutrition supplement that might have an effect on their actual health and cause them to lose a lot of money.”

Alongside training on areas such as disinformation, the Thai Media Fund’s project partnered participants with university students who provided mentoring on the technical skills needed to develop an online presence, including editing videos. Participants created online pages sharing their areas of expertise, from learning English to advice on caring for children who are autistic. A grandad in Ubon Ratchathani created a YouTube chatshow with his grandson in Bangkok, so that they could stay in touch even while living far away from one another.

‘I let it go naturally’

Nadrda Suksuthamwong, 61, a personal trainer and fitness influencer, another of the participants, credits the course with teaching her about how to illustrate and cut her videos more effectively. She has used social media for 10 years and has a TikTok following of more than 68,300 people. “My children are in their 30s, they tell their friends – my mom is a TikTok star,” she says. Her videos feature the shuffle dance trend, as well as advice on proper form when exercising. “I think our livelihood is from working so I don’t think of retiring at all,” she says.

Nadrda Suksuthamwong in one of her TikTok videos
Nadrda Suksuthamwong in one of her TikTok videos. Photograph: krutookta_/TikTok

Older people are perhaps put off producing content online because they worry about making mistakes, she adds. “They don’t want to be compared with other people and that can make them lose their confidence, so they dare not present themselves in the media.”

Pojai Poonnat, director of the project, which is called Soong Wai Huajai Young Work, said that some participants were shy about appearing on screen. “They’re worried about being bullied over how they look and or how they behave in front of the camera,” she says, adding that trainers suggested alternatives such as doing voiceovers.

As a former school headteacher, Somsak wasn’t nervous about presenting. Environmental conservation was a topic he promoted at school, he says, and now he hopes to share the same messages among his own generation. “They have time and some of them have land,” he says.

Each morning, he films a short video while out in the garden, which he spends about 30 minutes editing later in the evening, ready to post the next day. Somsak doesn’t obsess over his follower count and number of likes. “I let it go naturally,” he says. “If [people online] like the same thing as me, they can come and join.”

“During my official work before I retired, I was quite happy with my work and happy being busy,” he says. Now, he says, social media has become his new classroom.


Rebecca Ratcliffe South-east Asia correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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