What use is inaccurate health information on well-known social media sites like TikTok?
According to research presented at the American College of Gastroenterology 2022 Annual Scientific Meeting in Charlotte, NC, the majority of the well-liked videos about irritable bowel syndrome using the #IBS hashtag on TikTok are posted by influencers or the general public rather than by medical experts or health establishments. Although pieces from influencers were shared more frequently, content from doctors received more views.
According to Faraz Jafri of the University of Texas’ Dell Medical School in Austin, “these findings promote the engagement of healthcare organisations and experts with influencers to increase health information exchange and distribution of factual educational content.”
He notes that 1.6 billion people have already viewed posts with the hashtag “IBS,” many of which are intended to help individuals deal with having IBS.
Because COVID-19 made it more difficult for people to visit their doctor, social media sites like TikTok provided a crucial venue for sharing their experiences with IBS, according to Jafri. TikTok has played a significant role in normalising IBS by offering an online support forum where patients can go and share their stories, despite the fact that IBS is frequently an embarrassing topic for people.
The accuracy and instructional value of the first 100 videos that appeared on TikTok with the hashtag #IBS and matched the inclusion criteria for their study were examined by Jafri and his team. They discovered that of the total videos, 42 were released by influencers, 10 were shared by medical professionals, and six more were posted by medical institutions. The public disseminated the remaining videos.
Influencer-posted videos received an average of 16,382 shares, whereas medical experts’ videos only received 10,869 shares. However, medical professionals’ films had more views (3,661,000) than influencers’ videos (2,926,476).
Less than half (47%) of the educational videos (only 30%) were factual. Additionally, 21% of the videos shared by influencers were not based on peer-reviewed, gold-standard research.
These findings are not shocking, according to Zachary Rubin, MD, a paediatric allergist and immunologist at Oak Brook Allergists in Illinois, because TikTok is full of health misinformation. This is particularly true when medical professionals themselves do not fully understand the relevant health concerns.
According to Rubin, it’s critical for people to be aware of online trends that may influence medical decision-making in order to correct any potential misinformation. (Rubin is a frequent TikTok user who regularly shares instructional videos about vaccinations, respiratory ailments, and allergies; she was not part in the study.)
In order to get people to visit their own website and sign up for classes or purchase items, which may not always be proven to be helpful, he says that many content providers propagate false information.
He advises anyone seeking health-related information on TikTok to look out the qualifications of the creators they are following. The creator’s professional credentials, the content of their personal website, and if they are actively trying to sell something are all things to take into account.
Although TikTok may provide useful information about IBS and its treatment, Jafri advises being careful of false information and consulting a doctor before beginning a new diet or medication. Patients can use TikTok to obtain practical “tips and tricks” offered by qualified healthcare specialists that can enhance lifestyle and relieve symptoms.
The researchers discovered that non-medical professionals posted almost all of the non-educational films (97%) on YouTube. Just over a third (35%) of the posts were categorised as humorous, while 7% were categorised as marketing. The majority of the postings were classed as lifestyle (43%) or tips and techniques (40%).
Users were especially interested in entries that covered lifestyle modifications like massage, nutrition, positioning, and clothing that could ease IBS symptoms, according to Jafri. The TikTok platform has seen a surge in posts about diet, lifestyle, medicine, and product promotion related to the DIY treatment of IBS.
According to Rubin, TikTok’s popularity as a platform makes it crucial for health professionals to sign up and offer reliable health advice, particularly on trending subjects like weight reduction and skin care.
According to Rubin, “the great majority of adults conduct online searches for health-related information, and many of them seek out their doctors on social media.” “It may serve as a reliable source of current information for people. It may present a chance for professionals to interact both with patients and the media.”