Home Gesundheit Wohin gehen die legitimen Gesundheitsinformationen, wenn TikTok dunkel wird?

Wohin gehen die legitimen Gesundheitsinformationen, wenn TikTok dunkel wird?

von NFI Redaktion

On April 23, 2024, it is more of a „when“ than an „if“: TikTok will be banned in the United States, leaving the 170 million Americans who use the social media app with another option. This would also mean the growing community of healthcare professionals who use the platform to share credible health information and advice with their followers would disappear.

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a bill this week that would give ByteDance, the Chinese owners of TikTok, up to a year to sell the company, otherwise it will be banned in the U.S. President Joe Biden has indicated he would sign the bill into law.

If TikTok is no longer available, it could result in the work of those who have made the website a hub for expert and user-created videos covering a wide range of consumer health topics no longer being accessible.

„TikTok has had a positive impact on public awareness and has enabled creative approaches to make this information accessible to a less reachable audience, which is a triumph,“ said Dr. Adam Friedman, Professor and Chair of Dermatology at George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

With good and accurate information lacking, many fear that purveyors of misinformation may fill the gaps.

Switching to other social media platforms?

„Young people will likely find new platforms to fill the void if TikTok can no longer operate in the U.S. However, it is unclear how they will do so,“ said Laura Schwab Reese, PhD, associate professor of public health at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN, who has studied the impact of TikTok on reproductive health information on sexual assault counseling, and more.

„In my work, we have shown that TikTok videos with the most views in hashtags related to sexual/reproductive health and sexual violence generally contain high-quality, credible, and engaging information,“ Schwab Reese said.

Most content currently available on TikTok is likely to migrate to Instagram Reels, predicted Claire Wardle, PhD, Founder and Co-Director of the Information Futures Lab at Brown University School of Public Health in Providence, Rhode Island. YouTube is also often mentioned as a possible new home for TikTok users.

„I wish there were other places for young people to get accurate information, but that is not currently the case,“ she added. „Young people prefer websites that support user-generated content.“

One benefit that could be lost with the demise of TikTok is users normalizing medical and health issues for others. „TikTok is a place where people share first-hand experiences, and that helps to destigmatize medical and health issues,“ said Wardle. „That would be a loss.“

Supporting positive mental health

„TikTok does a good job of bringing people’s lived experiences and different perspectives to light. We have seen important conversations about mental health on the platform,“ Wardle said.

It’s not just users. For example, in October 2023, the Cleveland Clinic partnered with the National Institute of Mental Health to share credible mental health information on TikTok. Posts include problematic signs of depression, how people with high functioning anxiety often show no external signs, and the difference between migraines and other headaches.

„Mental health is a growing concern, and we know that online searches in this area have increased, especially among young people,“ said Leo Pozuelo, MD, Chair of Psychology and Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic, in a TikTok statement. „That’s why it’s important for people to have access to credible health information on various platforms, including TikTok.“

Large numbers could be excluded

If most TikTok users stay on the hunt for a new platform, content creators of legitimate health and medical information may find it difficult to predict which platform will be most popular, said Schwab Reese. As a result, „there may be a delay between user acceptance and access to high-quality health information.“

If TikTok does go offline, it could lead to a mass migration elsewhere on the internet.

The number of Americans sourcing their medical and health information from TikTok now reaches into the millions. For instance, 2.2 million people follow family physician Mikhail Varshavski, DO, known as „Dr. Mike,“ and 8.4 million follow plastic surgeon Anthony Youn, MD.

Not ignoring misinformation

One thing not mourned with the downfall of TikTok, although it is likely to resurface elsewhere, is health and medical misinformation.

There are some „outstanding doctors and nurses doing great work on the platform by creating videos and commenting on other videos,“ said Wardle. „But we must recognize that there are also many contents that have not been verified by medical professionals.“

„We have seen dangerous misinformation on topics such as oral contraception, skincare, and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV),“ Wardle added.

Due to the functioning of the TikTok algorithm, „users see more of it once they engage with content that contains misinformation,“ said Schwab Reese.

Friedman agreed that TikTok continues to be plagued by misinformation. While many of his dermatology colleagues use TikTok to exchange valuable information, „I feel that the harm from misinformation outweighs the good that so many of my colleagues have achieved.“

He recommended that consumers turn to other reputable sources of information like the American Academy of Dermatology Association website for a wide range of advice on skin conditions and skin health. He also suggested websites of organizations dealing with specific conditions – such as the National Eczema Association, the National Psoriasis Foundation, or HSConnect for those looking to learn more about Hidradenitis suppurativa.

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