tiktok shop health trends misinformation

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Should we single out creators for promoting fake viral health trends on TikTok?

There has to be a better solution to prevent the proliferation of snake oil salesman in 2023.


Andrew Fiouzi


Posted on Oct 11, 2023   Updated on Oct 11, 2023, 3:03 pm CDT


Last week, A.W. Ohlheiser, a senior technology reporter at Vox wrote a scathing article about how TikTok creators profit off dangerous health trends. The story focused largely on TikTok Shop creator Busy Belle who, according to Ohlheiser, has been telling her nearly 30,000 followers that castor oil — a vegetable oil pressed from beans — if applied to the belly button, can fight bacterial infections and even dissolve tumors. 

As a result of Belle’s content, castor oil has emerged as the latest viral product that’s being sold on TikTok’s in-app marketplace better known as TikTok Shop. “The Shop also provides a revenue stream for creators, who can make ‘affiliate’ videos promoting products found in the shop,” writes Ohlheiser. But rather than standard “paid sponsorship” posts, affiliates who promote these products make a commission from sales. 

The issue with Belle’s promotion of castor oil on TikTok Shop is twofold. First, there’s little to no evidence that any of its health benefits are real. Second, according to Ohlheiser, “researchers found that videos promoting these substances, at times appearing to target teenagers, were viewed more than 500 million times on TikTok, mostly by people younger than 24.”

Of course, we’ve known for a while that social media algorithms feed people content to increase “engagement” and keep them scrolling to see more ads. Not to mention that emotionally provocative claims like “castor oil could help dissolve tumors” or “rubbing castor oil in your belly button helps speed up your metabolism” go a long way in cultivating viral content and selling products on TikTok Shop.

So what’s the solution? …

In Body Image

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*First Published: Oct 11, 2023, 3:02 pm CDT