In a recent study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, researchers have issued a cautionary note regarding the reliability of information concerning autism circulating on social media platforms, particularly TikTok. While the proliferation of autism-related content on social media has undoubtedly raised awareness, this study has unveiled disconcerting findings.

 

The study examined the precision and reach of autism-related information on TikTok, a platform boasting approximately 1.677 billion global users and 1.1 billion monthly active users. Astonishingly, videos associated with the hashtag ‘#Autism’ amassed a staggering 11.5 billion views. These statistics underscore the influence that social media can exert in shaping public perceptions and understanding of subjects such as autism.

 

However, the crux of the issue lies in the accuracy of the information being presented. The researchers meticulously scrutinised the top 133 most-viewed TikTok videos that provided informational content about autism. They carefully categorised each piece of content into one of three categories: accurate, inaccurate, or overgeneralised.

 

To make this determination, two independent coders rigorously evaluated the content, scrutinising its alignment with established scientific knowledge about autism. A video was designated as ‘inaccurate’ only when it patently contradicted the scientific understanding of autism. In contrast, ‘overgeneralisation’ pertained to instances where individuals incorrectly implied that their personal experiences applied universally across the autistic spectrum, neglecting to represent the diverse manifestations within the autistic population.

 

The authors found that only 27% of the most-viewed videos were accurate, with 32% being overgeneralised, and a troubling 41% categorically inaccurate. Equally significant was the absence of significant disparities in engagement between videos that were accurate and those that were inaccurate or overgeneralised. This perhaps suggests that misleading or overly simplified content on autism can accumulate as much attention as precise information, potentially perpetuating misconceptions.

 

According to the researchers, videos created by healthcare professionals were found to be the most likely to contain accurate and scientifically sound information. This finding perhaps underscores the pivotal role that healthcare providers and professionals can play in disseminating reliable information amidst the deluge of misinformation on social media.

 

I am sharing this study not because I necessarily endorse its findings, but rather to emphasise the importance of maintaining vigilance when evaluating purported expert opinions on social media.

 

More about the study can be found here:

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10803-023-06084-6

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