According to researchers, TikTok is not the best place to seek sex education, especially teens and adolescents. While this could pass for common knowledge, it is now backed by scientific research.
As identified by the authors of a new study, the problem with sex education content on TikTok is that they are not screened for misinformation. In addition, teen viewers do not have the opportunity to ask further questions.
Given the scarcity of such content elsewhere, it is not surprising that the young ones are turning to the popular video-sharing platform for sex education. Researchers have long pointed out that the educational system has not been sufficient to teach teens what they need to know about sex. Where available, sex education may not cover sensitive topics like contraception, consent, and gender diversity. Content creators are filling this void but leave much to be desired.
One of the authors of a new study set up a fictional account for a 15-year old and downloaded 100 videos that have the #sexeducation and #healthclass hashtags. More than half were devoted to the male and female anatomies, with the majority focused on the female anatomy and female sexual pleasure. Only thirteen percent addressed contraception, while even fewer (5 percent) spoke about topics like safe sex, navigating health care, and consent.
The authors concluded that because of the large amount of content devoted to the female sexual anatomy and pleasure, it means the teens do not have any other sources of information that they are comfortable with. This is a failing of responsibility towards this group of impressionable people.
While the authors acknowledge that it is more convenient for teens to consume sex education content on TikTok because of privacy, they often do not have an easy method to ask further questions, give feedback because that would be public, or get additional content when required.
In addition, the teens do not have any method to validate these videos’ content, making it very easy for misinformation to spread in that demography.
Some qualified healthcare professionals do produce trustworthy content on TikTok, but they easily drown out in the deluge of videos on these subjects. Teens may find it hard to locate such authentic content. “The ever-growing quantity of content available on TikTok makes responding to all misinformation impractical, and there is no guarantee a user will ever encounter these corrective videos.”
The study’s authors recommend that more experts carry out more studies on the accuracy of sex education content on TikTok. This is important due to the platform’s growth and outsized influence on the users. TikTok recently crossed one billion monthly active users.
Other researchers have also called for more study into the accuracy of medical advice TikTok users are exposed to.
The study also encourages doctors to subtly as their teen patients about their use of social media and take the opportunity to correct some misinformation that they might have come across. “Providers have a critical role to play in anticipating common myths and misunderstandings and providing the correct information about sexual health topics.”
Sadly, sex education is not the only health aspect where misinformation is rife on TikTok. Other studies have shown that the platform has been host to inaccurate content on Covid-19 and prostate cancer.
Social media platforms have been facing increasing scrutiny recently on their effect on their users, especially the young ones. Facebook and Instagram have faced backlash on how they respond to or try to prevent negative impact on users’ mental health and access to drugs. A whistleblower revealed Meta knew about how its Facebook platform hurt teen girls but decided not to do anything about it. Even TikTok has been forced to change how it recommends videos to prevent rabbit holes that encourage suicide.