Jul 5, 2023
Eilene Lee

Is Fear-Mongering on Social Media Affecting Your Health Decisions?

Is Fear-Mongering on Social Media Affecting Your Health Decisions?

Social media has become a leading communication channel to disseminate information about health and wellness. While this certainly can be a positive trend, as it provides people with access to information and resources they might not have had otherwise, it also has noteworthy drawbacks. One of these drawbacks is the potential for fear-mongering, or the unnecessary inducement of fear on a specific issue. In the context of health, fear-mongering can lead people to make poor decisions about their health, or even cause them to avoid seeking medical attention altogether.

On video-centric platforms like TikTok, fear-mongering around health issues has become particularly prevalent in recent years. This is likely because humans have a strong impulse to pay attention to danger, and posts that generate a sense of danger can get more shares and clicks. As described in “The Psychology of Risk Perception” from the Harvard Mental Health Letter, “media coverage of high-profile disasters raises awareness of particular risks more than others.” Likewise, an event that is closely related to something or someone we care about can heighten our risk perception. One of the most problematic aspects of fear-mongering on TikTok is that it often targets young people, as the platform is particularly popular among teenagers and young adults. Unfortunately, many of these users may not have the background knowledge or skills necessary to properly evaluate the information they are consuming. 

For example, a health topic that has been trending on TikTok recently is the presence of titanium dioxide (TiO2) in certain brands of tampons and its purported association with cancer.

Titanium dioxide (TiO2) is a whitening agent used in food and medical products such as candy, cake decorations, sunscreen, paper, plastics, cosmetics, toothpastes, and more. In certain forms, and when inhaled, TiO2 can be dangerous.  It has been banned in food products in Europe. It is understandable how its presence in tampons could lead to concern among women. This is a subject that deserves careful consideration and contextualisation given the importance of the availability of tampons for many hundreds of millions of women worldwide. A rash reaction provoked by fear-mongering is not what is required.

With countless health myths out there, what can be done about fear-mongering on social media? The first step is for users to become more discerning about the information they are consuming. While social media can be a powerful tool for sharing information and promoting health, it can also be a breeding ground for misinformation and fear. By staying vigilant, fact-checking, and seeking out accurate information from credible sources, we can all work to combat this problem. 

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