Ever since TikTok launched, it has become the go-to social media platform for any kind of information you want to find. In fact, Gen-Z reportedly now use TikTok more than they use Google. You can find everything from popular trends, to everyday life hacks to useful information (and misinformation) about various subjects.
So it comes as no surprise that people now also use TikTok to get sex education. And it turns out, people are learning more about sexual health from TikTok than they are from their own school classrooms.
‘HealthTok’ is one of the fastest growing tags on the social media platform, accumulating 50 billion views on the #health hashtag and over 1.5 billion views on the topic of sexual health alone.
And according to research published by Superdrug Online Doctor after surveying 2,000 case studies across the UK, 80% of them said they use social media to consume health information, and about 43% of Brits agreed they are getting more of their sexual health information from TikTok than from their primary and secondary classroom.
But that does not mean that all of the information is accurate, because 59% of people also said they have seen untrue or misleading health information on TikTok.
Due to there being no vetting process on social media platforms, anyone can post anything about a topic and manage to influence how other people think.
TikTok user Kennedy, who studies human health and physiology, spoke about how much misinformation is currently up and unregulated on the platform.
“On TikTok lately I have seen an overwhelming amount of misinformation regarding human health and physiology. However, in the comments it’s very clear people don’t know whether this information is correct or not. Creators will block and delete comments in order to spread false information for their own selfish game,” she said.
“It’s frustrating that there is zero regulation and it leads to people telling me I’m incorrect even though I spent my time and money learning it,” she added.
Health misinformation on social media can be very damaging. Viewing incorrect or misleading content can lead people to self-diagnose inaccurately and cause needless anxiety due to the lack of professional insight.
The Superdrug Online Doctor survey also highlighted how viewing such information can also have a negative impact on people’s mental health, general confidence, personal relationships, and social life, with over 50% saying that health misinformation has managed to affect all of the above factors in their life.
So, how exactly do you spot bad health advice?
How do we avoid falling into these pitfalls of misinformation on social media, especially with regards to health?
Psychologist Smriti Joshi says that in order to spot misleading content, you need to remember that social media has algorithms to hook you onto a piece of information or trend, so it is very important to fact check each and every piece of information.
“Always ensure to check the source of the information you are accessing. It should be from credible brands and credible sources like the NHS or a qualified, licensed healthcare professional. Going directly to these websites will help you avoid following misleading posts on social media,” she says.
Other tips for spotting misinformation include having a critical eye and asking your GP for advice. If something looks too revolutionary or mind boggling, it is probably too good to be true. And to always remember that everyone is different and therefore, their needs will be different too.
“Don’t engage with a piece of information suggesting you take a concoction of herbs or take up a certain challenge leading to a positive physical or mental health outcome just because someone on a social media platform did it. We all have unique bodies and unique needs and it’s best that this advice comes to you from a credible source in an informed way,” Smriti added.