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TikTok has a lot of misleading videos about ADHD, according to a study

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TikTok became one of the most popular social media apps since the start of the pandemic but, according to a study published on February, it seems to have a high prevalence of misinformation about ADHD.

TikTok has an estimated 1 billion monthly active users worldwide, where 80% of its users are between the ages of 16 to 34. It has become one of the most popular social media apps.

The app is based around videos, with the original maximum being 1 minute, and currently being 3 minutes (with TikTok working on pushing the limit to 10 minutes). It’s based around music, so people can dance or act according to the rhythm and lyrics of the song. Generally, when a song is trending on TikTok, it also gets a top trending song on Spotify.

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While TikTok shows an obvious influence around music, what happens around other topics?

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This is why Anthony Yeung, Enoch Ng, and Elia Abi-Jaoude made the study “TikTok and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A Cross-Sectional Study of Social Media Content Quality”, where they studies the dissemination of ADHD information on Tiktok.

What did they find in the study?

The researchers collected the top 100 results for the hashtag “#adhd”, with them later being independently rated by one psychiatrist and one psychiatry resident with clinical experience in the diagnosis and management of ADHD.

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They found that 21 videos contained scientifically correct information about any aspect of ADHD, 27 videos described a user’s personal experience with ADHD, and 52 videos included misleading information that lacked scientific evidence.

This means that 52% of the videos about ADHD on TikTok are misleading (aka, they contain misinformation). This is important because each video in the study was viewed 3 million times.

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The misinformation can be an oversimplification of ADHD, recommendations of incorrect treatments, or wrongly attributed symptoms.

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Nevertheless, the app has created an increased awareness of ADHD, but the misleading information could potentially result in an increased risk for overdiagnosis or misdiagnosis.

“In the past 2 years (in particular since the start of the pandemic), many doctors are noticing an increase in patients showing up to their offices wondering if they have ADHD,” said study author Anthony Yeung in an interview with PsyPost.

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Limitations of the study

The TikTok algorithm doesn’t show every video that was ever published on the platform, so it’s very hard to evaluate the prevalence of misinformation for less popular videos. It also doesn’t allow to search for paid video advertisements about ADHD.

While there have been concerns about predatory advertisements about ADHD on TikTok made by for-profit telehealth companies, some of them have been pulled from the app, so there’s no way to access them and evaluate them.

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There’s also a need to fully understand why TikTok users connect and resonate so strongly with misleading videos, but also the prevalence of misinformation on TikTok for other mental health topics.

The takeaways from the study

If you’re a TikTok user, or you’re close to someone that is, you should be careful with the type of information that is being consumed. If you or anyone you know think that they have ADHD, it’s best to not self-diagnose and talk to an expert about it.

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At the end of the day, not everything we read and see on social media (and the internet) is true or real.

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