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Birth control causing infertility? Non-organic tampons leaching dangerous chemicals? “Cleaning” female genitalia with sprigs of lavender? These are just a few of the myths shared online over hashtags like #birthcontrolproblems. Some medical professionals are trying to combat these myths with short form videos on TikTok, with one pharmacist going the extra mile and reporting the creators to their place of work for false medical information to hold them accountable.
But these individual experts aren’t enough to address the growing issue. A recent study of 26,000 girls across 26 countries found that misinformation:
- Damages mental health. 87% said false information, including manipulated images and messages on stereotypes or acceptability, makes them more stressed and anxious. Many point to the body and face perfecting and warping filters available on TikTok, Instagram, and more.
- Restricts girls’ activism. A fourth fear repercussions of sharing their views online while a fifth stopped engaging in politics or current affairs altogether due to the stress and exhaustion of having to fact-check content constantly.
- Influences decisions about girls’ physical health. Doctors have seen an increase in skin infections after patients used DIY remedies found online. For example, “curing” self-diagnosed yeast infections by putting yogurt in the vagina.
- Overall damages public health. A quarter of young women also questioned getting the COVID-19 vaccine based on misinformation.
While TikTok expanded on the misleading content policy last year and removed 104M videos for violations, the approach has been met with controversy as leaked documents showed the company intentionally removed content of “ugly” people to keep the platform attractive to viewers as well. More recently, users complained that TikTok’s blanket approach ends up removing helpful content alongside the negative content.
That said, these channels help empower young women as well. Other research shows how social media platforms help girls connect all around the world to spread information that may be taboo in their own communities and enable civic participation.
So how do we ensure all girls have positive, safe digital experiences? Researchers say education and policy. Roughly 70% of girls reported never being taught to spot misinformation, whether at school or by family members. To get there, governments are being called upon to prioritize and invest in comprehensive digital media literacy programs.
🎬 Take Action
Call on governments everywhere to prioritize digital literacy for young girls by signing this petition by Plan International.
- CodaStory: (Where we found this story) 3 weeks old | 7 minutes long
- Plan International: The full report 3 weeks old | 25 minutes long
- CodaStory: TikTok misinformation 8 months old | 19 minutes long
- NBC News: Pharmacist holding TikTokers accountable 5 months old | 17 minutes long
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Tik Tok who?
My TikTok is ready with some lies for you!
Art Credit: TextArt4U