“Gen-Z” is obsessed with the social networking service TikTok, which has become an almost unavoidable part of the internet. Needless to say, the COVID-19 pandemic has been the topic of countless videos on the platform for months. Is it all just for fun, or could these videos actually help in the fight against Coronavirus?
By Corey H. Basch, Grace C. Hillyer and Christie Jaime
TikTok is a social media platform, which was founded in China in 2012 but has been available in the US only since 2018. The service uses a 15-second short video format that has become very popular among teenagers and young adults aged 13-24. Just like the rest of the internet, TikTok has been flooded with content about the Coronavirus, which has now infected more than 11 million people worldwide.
In the wake of the ongoing pandemic, a research team from William Paterson University and Columbia University asked themselves: how effectively is information about Covid-19 actually communicated on TikTok? Using the hashtag #Coronavirus, the researchers selected and examined 117 TikTok videos, including 17 videos that were created by the World Health Organization (WHO). Dr. Grace C. Hillyer, who analyzed the data, notes: “With more than 1 billion views for these 117 videos, the results were surprising.”
What are people “TikToking” about during the pandemic?
The most portrayed topics were anxiety and quarantine. Fewer than 10% of the videos addressed the transmission of the virus, as well as symptoms of COVID-19, and the prevention of viral spread. This also included the videos by the WHO – the organization, which many people consider as the ultimate authority on all things related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among the most difficult aspects of controlling the spread of coronavirus is the strict enforcement of social distancing, particularly among teenagers and young adults who can easily pass on the virus to more vulnerable and older family members. The study found that while American youths are encouraged to stay connected via social media during this pandemic, there is little evidence that videos about coronavirus on TikTok convey critically important health information to contain this pandemic.
Yet, Dr. Corey Basch, lead researcher of the study provides a word of caution: “As TikTok is explored as an avenue to promote public health, we also have to be aware that the dissemination of COVID-19 misinformation has already inundated TikTok, despite efforts to identify and block false information, fake news, and conspiracy theories.”
When asked what the take home message is, the authors replied: “TikTok has the potential to convey important health information but has fallen short of that goal and the credibility of this platform as an informational source is threatened by those whose intentions are to undermine the health and safety of viewers.”
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