Health myth busters: Meet the medical experts fighting bogus science on TikTok


“People should want to watch content because they enjoy the content,” Raj said, insisting that videos needed to gain popularity of their own accord. “If I get on the ‘For You’ page, it’s because people like my content.”

Richards pointed out that ensuring that a video from, say, the World Health Organisation gets millions of views does not ensure that the information will affect users, noting that impact is gauged through a mixed methodology that analyses several factors, including engagement, watch time and shares.

Some researchers recommend that TikTok work with health organisations to identify experts who can explain complex health issues in layperson’s terms, as the platform did with COVID-19 efforts. Ciaran O’Connor, an analyst who studies disinformation at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, suggested that TikTok offer experts verified badges as a stamp of authority.

But misinformation experts and creators alike argued that social media platforms are not solely responsible for amplifying accurate information. They want institutions and health departments to further invest in influencers. They also want stronger initiatives to support creators, like financial compensation, mental health resources or help handling harassment.

“For all of the experts who are on there trying to put out high-quality information, if we want that to be sustainable for them, we need to be building infrastructure that doesn’t rely on the platforms,” Richards said. Right now, she said, “it’s viewed as a hobby, almost like charity work.”

Despite the hurdles, debunkers do see their efforts paying off. Followers have told Wallace that they got vaccinated after watching her videos. Chiang heard from viewers who got screened for medical conditions they might have otherwise ignored. And Dhahir’s fans sometimes reach out to say thank you.

“They’ll say, ‘I appreciate everything,’ or, ‘You’ve inspired me,’” Dhahir said. “Then I’ll be like, ‘You know what? This is actually worth it.’”

By Rina Raphael © 2022 The New York Times

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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