Study Finds Shocking Amount of TikTok Autism Videos Spread Misinformation

Almost Three-quarters of videos relating to Autism on TikTok contain inaccurate information on the disorder, new research reveals.

A new study in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders entitled: The Reach and Accuracy of Information on Autism on TikTok found that 73% of informational videos on the platform contained inaccurate or overgeneralized claims about autism.

Videos With Misinformation Have The Same Views as Accurate Info

Worryingly, these videos, which had received a staggering amount of views, received similar levels of ‘likes' and views as ones that provide accurate information, with the inaccurate videos receiving 144,584,203 views and 16,724,125 likes. In comparison, accurate videos received 54,111,743 views and 8,468,277 likes.

The study's co-author Giacomo Vivanti told PsyPost, “TikTok videos associated with the ‘Autism' hashtag accrued 11.5 billion views collectively, an extremely broad reach. We fact-checked the 133 top videos providing informational content on autism, which totaled 198.7 million views and 25.2 million likes, and showed that the majority of videos provided information that was patently false, or overgeneralized, i.e., experiences related to a single person were used to advance claims about how autism should be diagnosed or conceptualized in general.”

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) covers a ‘spectrum' of complex neurodevelopmental disorders that affect a person's communication and social skills and ability to regulate emotions.

The study, conducted by Diego Aragon-Guevara, Grace Castle, Elisabeth Sheridan, and Giacomo Vivanti, was published in response to a growing concern about the amount of unfiltered and often false information found on social media and video platforms.

The researchers decided to focus on TikTok due to the platform's large user base and high percentage of healthcare-related videos, including those relating to autism.

Giacomo Vivanti, leader of the Early Detection and Intervention research program at the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, said: “Although social media platforms have made information about autism more accessible to the general public, concerns have been raised about the unfiltered nature of the content they host.”

“Many practitioners have the perception that information on autism on social media can have a vast reach – however, it can only contribute to disseminating misinformation. We were particularly interested in TikTok because of its popularity – it surpassed 2 billion mobile downloads worldwide by 2020. It was ranked the most popular website as of 2021.”

Many Autism TikTok Videos Contain Blatant Misinformation

In the study, the researchers created a new TikTok account. Then, they searched for English-language videos using the #Autism hashtag.

Of the 365 videos they found, they identified 133 informational videos for further analysis. These were then reviewed and classified as being accurate, inaccurate, or overgeneralized based on established scientific knowledge relating to autism.

The researchers found that, like other social media channels, TikTok can bias understanding about autism by “providing blatant misinformation or overgeneralizing individual experiences to the entire autism spectrum and not representing the entire spectrum of manifestations within the autistic population.”

They also noted that videos created by healthcare professionals were more likely to contain accurate information than those made by autistic creators and ‘other' creators.

However, Vivanti conceded that “videos on TikTok that anecdotally document the lives of autistic people and their families, without the claim of disseminating knowledge on autism as a condition in general,” present an “unprecedented opportunity to create a space where autistic individuals and family members can share their personal experiences with many people, which can advance knowledge on lived experiences and help reduce stigma.”