Don't rely on TikTok for accurate health information about mpox, the virus once known as monkeypox, a new study says.
An international group of researchers who watched and analyzed videos about mpox on the social media site found them to be often inaccurate, incomplete and of poor quality. Study findings were published May 14 in BMJ Global Health.
A global outbreak of mpox made headlines last year. It's usually spread by close contact and involves fever, swollen lymph glands and painful skin pustules all over the body that last several weeks.
“Overall, the material on the recent mpox outbreak shared through TikTok videos was frequently unreliable and incomplete, hindering public health efforts to share accurate information on mpox,” the authors said in a journal news release. They include Dr. Ao Shi from St. George's University of London.
Researchers determined overall quality was higher when the videos were made by doctors and science communicators rather than institutional users, nurses and the general public.
Still, the overall average score for the videos was 39.56 out of 80 using DISCERN, a tool used to help consumers gauge the reliability of health information; and 1.93 out of 4 using criteria from the Journal of the American Medical Association. No video met all the JAMA criteria.
“Our quality-of-information results emphasize the need for developing instructions on health information videos on social media and for encouraging more content from health professionals,” the authors said.
Researchers uploaded relevant videos between Jan. 1 and Aug. 11, 2022, using 12 hashtags. While the initial search turned up 2,462 videos, 85 remained after they weeded out those that didn't contain educational content, weren't original or in English.
Researchers evaluated the videos for content on features and treatment of mpox.
More than 1 billion people used TikTok in 2022, often to access and share public health information, the authors noted.
For the study, videos were grouped into four categories, by author: doctors and science communicators, with 43.5% of videos; institutions, with 8%; nurses and other health care workers, with 13%; and the general public, with 35%.
Video length averaged 78 seconds. They received an average 11,015 likes, 211 comments and 693 shares.
More than 8 in 10 videos addressed mpox risk factors, but included only about one-third of the items highlighted in clinical practice guidelines.
Engagement was affected by whether the videos included people and had information on the quality of treatment choices.
Study limitations are that the time frame was short and that the tools used to evaluate videos were designed for websites, not social media.
Researchers said their findings highlight the potential risks of using social media for health information during public health emergencies.
“Our study highlights the risks of referring to TikTok or social media as a health information source. …Poor quality videos with biased content may lead to confusion and impair successful informed decision making. This exacerbates the ‘infodemic' on social media, deterring efforts to prevent and manage disease outbreaks, notably the mpox outbreak,” the authors said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on mpox.