TikTok’s algorithms are promoting videos about self-harm and eating disorders to vulnerable teens, according to a report published Wednesday that highlights concerns about social media and its impact on youth mental health.
Researchers at the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate created TikTok accounts for fictional teen personas in the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. The researchers operating the accounts then “liked” videos about self-harm and eating disorders to see how TikTok’s algorithm would respond.
Within minutes, the wildly popular platform was recommending videos about losing weight and self-harm, including ones featuring pictures of models and idealized body types, images of razor blades and discussions of suicide.
When the researchers created accounts with user names that suggested a particular vulnerability to eating disorders — names that included the words “lose weight” for example — the accounts were fed even more harmful content.