ST. LOUIS, MO --Over the years, Percy Green II, 77, a longtime civil rights activist, has participated in countless acts of civil disobedience and been arrested more than 100 times.
During the 1960s, Green was one of the founding members of St. Louis' Action Council to Improve Opportunities for Negroes (ACTION). The group was effective because it could organize protests quickly and dramatize why they were protesting, Green said.
But, he added, their efforts were whispers compared to the amplified voice that social media and the Internet now offers the civil disobedience movements.
"This type of enlightenment is traveling worldwide," he said. "That makes me feel that all of the work I have put in terms of human rights is finally beginning to culminate."
To stay engaged with new movements and connected to young people, Green joined Facebook near its inception in 2004.
In the height of the 1960s, Green and his colleagues held highly publicized sit-ins at the St. Louis Arch, McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) and Jefferson Bank.
Back then, they were relying on snail mail, Green said. Telephone trees—10 people calling 10 others and so on--were also widely used in organizing direct action quickly.
"With Facebook, there's endless numbers of people you can make connections to that you can't with snail mail or standing on the corner passing out leaflets," he said. "Facebook allows you to connect with lots more people with like minds."
Green is among 42 percent of Internet users ages 50 and older who have joined social networking sites, according to the Pew Internet & American Life project's 2010 "Older Adults and Social Media" report.
While the youngest generations are still significantly more likely to use social network sites, the fastest growth rate has come from Internet users like Green who are age 74 and older. Social network site usage for this oldest cohort has quadrupled from 2008 to 2010, from 4 percent to 16 percent, according to the center's "Generations Online" report.
Social networking use among Internet users ages 50 and older nearly doubled – from 22 percent in April 2009 to 42 percent in May 2010.
And among Internet users ages 65 and older, social networking doubled to 26 percent- from April 2009 to May 2010.
Green said whenever he gets around his high school colleagues at reunion meetings, he encourages them to get involved with computers and social media.
"Many of the seniors, they don't want to have anything to do with it," Green said. "With all of the time the seniors have on their hands, you would think that they would want to use social media--something that puts them into the outside world and puts their minds to work."
Social networking sites, such as Facebook and Eons (a networking site specifically designed for boomers and seniors), are just one type of social media.
Green has also started to dabble with YouTube, the most popular video-sharing site on the Web, and Twitter, a sort of "microblogging" site. However he hasn't quite touched the blogs, podcasts, and social-gaming sites, such as Winster (another website tailored to seniors).
The world of social media may seem overwhelming for anyone, especially seniors, but the main idea of social media websites or online tools is to allow people to interact.
In one of Green's Facebook posts, he unloaded on St. Louis Mayor Francis G. Slay calling him "an extreme Republican dressed in a Democrat clothing" and chiding him for enforcing a park curfew during a recent peaceful protest to please a prominent banker.
Someone in his network wrote back, "I see you haven't slowed down."
"It is invigorating," Green said. "It tells you that all of the work that they put into the movement was not wasted or limited. It's the type of feeling of joy--the feeling of 'at last.'"