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Study Finds Misinformation About ADHD Common in Popular TikTok Videos

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In recent years, social media platforms have become a popular source of health information, with many individuals turning to these platforms to learn more about various medical conditions. But there is growing concern about the quality of health information available on these platforms, as much of the content is user-generated and unmoderated. This concern is particularly relevant for mental health conditions, where misinformation and stigma can be particularly damaging.

One mental health condition that has gained particular attention on social media is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The video-sharing social media platform TikTok has become a particularly popular platform for sharing information about ADHD, with the hashtag “#adhd” currently one of the most popular health-related hashtags on the platform. This has raised concerns about the accuracy and quality of information being shared about the condition.

Previous research has shown that social media can be both helpful and harmful to mental health. On the one hand, it can reduce stigma, provide a sense of community, and increase health literacy. On the other hand, it can lead to misinformation, anxiety, and harmful behaviours. For example, recent reports have linked TikTok videos to a rise in tic-like behaviours in adolescents, with exposure to tic-related videos thought to be responsible for this phenomenon.

A recent study has found that TikTok videos about attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are being widely disseminated on popular social media platforms, and approximately half of these videos are misleading. The study, which was conducted by researchers from multiple institutions, sought to investigate the quality of the top 100 most popular TikTok videos about ADHD. Of these videos, 52% were classified as misleading, 27% as personal experience, and only 21% as useful. The videos were highly understandable but had low actionability. The findings were published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry

The researchers used the Patient Education Materials Assessment Tool for Audiovisual Materials (PEMAT-A/V) and Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) benchmark criteria to assess the overall quality, understandability, and actionability of the videos. The study found that non-healthcare providers uploaded the majority of misleading videos, while healthcare providers uploaded higher quality and more useful videos.

The study has some limitations, including the fact that the analysis was limited to the top 100 most popular videos and not all videos contained detailed information to identify whether an uploader was a health professional or not. The study also noted that TikTok’s proprietary search algorithm does not allow for systematic searching of all videos or deleted videos.

The dissemination of health misinformation on social media platforms is a cause for concern, especially as social media can reduce mental health stigma and improve health literacy. TikTok has rapidly gained popularity, becoming the most downloaded social media application in 2020 with over 1 billion monthly active users. However, there is also concern about the potential for illness/health anxiety (“cyberchondria”) due to the volume of unmoderated, user-generated content online.

The study highlights the importance of clinicians being aware of the dissemination of misleading videos on TikTok and its potential impact on clinical care. Future research is needed to understand the prevalence and nature of misinformation on TikTok for other mental health topics, and to investigate whether healthcare professional engagement on the platform could help correct misinformation.

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