Tics caused by TikTok? It's possible
The TikTok platform would have an impact on the social development of young people, especially women. Some have even developed tics while using it.
During a three-week period in March 2021, the number of views associated with TikTok videos relating to tics and Tourette's syndrome skyrocketed. They have accumulated around 5.8 billion views, we learn from an American study published in 2021 in the Movement Disorders Clinical Practice. At the same time, the number of people presenting to neurological clinics with tics has also jumped during the pandemic.
Faced with this observation, researchers have been interested in the gain in popularity of this type of content on this platform. The sample analyzed by the researchers includes the most watched videos broadcast by the most popular English-speaking TikTok influencers during a day in March 2021. These videos were mostly made by women, and the average age of the content creators was 18.8 years old.
According to the researchers, the vocalization and movements that have been observed within this pool of people share some common characteristics.
“While tics were generally most common around the eyes, head, neck and shoulders, in the most popular videos in our cohort, arm movements were most common by compared to all other parts of the body,” reads the study.
At 29 per minute, the total average of vocal and motor tics was also well above the typical average observed for Tourette's syndrome, which is 0 to 13 tics per minute.
This strange phenomenon would be a modern case of “acute collective somatization”, that is, the fact for a group of individuals to convert psychic disorders into physical disorders. The deterioration of mental health during the pandemic may have contributed to the spontaneous spread of tics among these young people. The added stress of increased use of social media during lockdown may also have a role to play.
Although it is possible that some people have contracted certain symptoms through the Web, the unusual nature of this trend does not fail to raise doubts as to the sincerity of content creators afflicted with tics. Indeed, the study mentions that more than half of these influencers used the TikTok platform to also sell products to the public.
“Social media has become a lucrative source of income for […] popular creators who sell products or promote other businesses on their pages. The increase in revenue for those with the most subscribers can be in the millions of dollars. It pays to become popular on social media platforms, and following trends […] can help these creators achieve that status,” the study concludes.