Dr. Scott Griffiths
TikTok and Eating Disorders: A Big Data Investigation
28 March 2023 (Tuesday), 4pm
TikTok is the fastest growing social media platform in history with ~1.5 billion users at the end of 2022. The algorithm that powers TikTok delivers videos to users by predicting what will make them maximally engage with the content. Our concern is that this algorithm is powerful enough to create echo chambers. In the context of eating disorders, vulnerable users are delivered increasing amounts of appearance-oriented content focused on dieting and appearance enhancement, which intensifies over time as users engage. Therefore, we conducted the world’s first big data investigation of TikTok and eating disorders. We analysed >2 million TikTok videos delivered to 51 individuals with clinical eating disorders and 90 healthy controls during a 1-month period in which eating disorder symptoms were concurrently assessed. We found that: i) TikTok users with eating disorders are delivered significantly more appearance-oriented videos than healthy controls, and ii) the number of appearance-oriented videos delivered to TikTok users is positively correlated with the eating disorder symptoms they experienced that month. In a second study with 66 new TikTok users who created fresh TikTok accounts, we found that: i) the average length of time it took for a new TikTok user to be delivered an appearance-oriented video was just 3 minutes, and ii) new TikTok users were delivered an average of 19 appearance-oriented videos within their first 30 minutes. We discuss creating a system that visualises TikTok algorithms so that individuals with eating disorders and their clinicians can see the bias in their algorithms.
Dr. Scott Griffiths is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Psychological Sciences at the University of Melbourne, Australia. He leads the Physical Appearance Research Team, a group of researchers who investigate body image, appearance enhancement, and appearance-related psychological disorders such as eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder.