Fact-Check: Who is REALLY the oldest Facebook user?

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Big news in the tech world today as apparently the world’s oldest Facebook user turned 106 years old yesterday. Various news outlets dutifully reported the story of 106 year old Edythe Kirchmaier in full:

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But here’s the thing… is she really the oldest user? And even if she is… how do the media know? Here’s the thing, once you look at the reports a bit closer. Like this one, for example. It says:

“Last year her friends from the medical aid charity Direct Relief made her a facebook profile page”

So don’t expect to see Edythe on farmville, or re-posting weird quasi-inspirational quotes any time soon – it appears a charity have used her name to get a bit of publicity. Amusingly the article even quotes Edythe herself giving the game away:

“My goal was to get my favorite charity, Direct Relief, better known,”

In fact “oldest Facebook user” is such an attractive story that journalists keeping falling for it over and over again. So can we really know who the oldest Facebook user is? No doubt some of these people are genuine – but either way, it goes to show how easily journalists are suckered in by an unverifiable claim. Check these other lazy “oldest Facebook user” stories out.

What about Lily Strugnell, who ITV News reported on, who was aged 109? That story emerged because of a press release from nursing home company Barchester. (Lily died only a few months later).

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Lillian Lowe, who the Daily Mail reported using Facebook when she was 103 seemed to at least be slightly more genuine. Though she also died after signing up for the service.

What about Leonidas Panoutsopoulos, who was reportedly the oldest user when he was 104? He also died a year after signing up.

Perhaps the most famous elderly user here in the UK was Ivy Bean – who signed up for Facebook when she was 102, according to the Daily Mail. She later became more well known for Tweeting too – though it later turned out her social media usage was at the behest of a publicity stunt too. She quickly died too.

Finally in Australia, in 2011, it was reported that 101 year old Eva Woodrow was the oldest Facebook user. She died shortly after signing up.

I know what you’re thinking – isn’t it disturbing how many of these centenarians are dying after signing up for the social networking website. Is TechDigest blowing the lid off of the story of The Curse Of Facebook?!

Umm, probably not. As far as we know, these other oldest candidates are still alive and kicking:

Ella Kastner is another claim for the crown – registering at 102 years old, according to this Buzzfeed community post. Presumably knowing how cynical the internet is, she has even recorded video proof:

Florance Detlor was 101 when she signed up, according to ABC News – and even got to meet Mark Zuckerberg.

Weirdly though – despite ABC News reporting that Detlor was the oldest user at 101, they didn’t even check their own archive – as they would have learned that Eunice Brillhart was apparently the oldest user – this time at 105.

Finally there’s also Mary Kolounia Segouar Metzkar, also 105 who it was claimed uses Facebook.

So… who is the oldest? It seems that it is harder to pin down than you might think. What’s perhaps most surprising is that following all of these stories, nobody bothered to simply ask Facebook. So next time you see a story about the “oldest Facebook user” doing the rounds… take a moment to ask how they’ve figured it out.

James O’Malley
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