A Study of TikTok Content
TikTok is a video-based social media app that has rapidly gained in popularity in the past 5 years, with approximately 1 billion users worldwide. TikTok is predominantly used by young people. Unlike other forms of social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, TikTok users typically don't select the content that they view. Instead, TikTok users are shown an endless stream of short videos selected for them by the app's algorithm. The video content is hugely varied and may be informative (e.g., places of interest in your city), funny, or artistic, or focus on visual transformations, such as make-up videos, fashion, and fitness. A number of articles and public discussions have centered around the potential psychological consequences of using TikTok. In particular, concerns have been raised around the effects of TikTok use on body image and disordered eating, especially among young people, the app's target demographic. For example, in a Four Corners investigation, 'TikTok: Data mining, discrimination and dangerous content on the world's most popular app', (2021) a young woman described her struggles with recovering from her eating disorder while using TikTok. She described a process where the app presented her with pro-eating disorder content and images of people in eating disorder mental health wards. She found it difficult to change the settings of the app so that she no longer viewed content that reinforced disordered eating behaviours. Her experience has been echoed by others, who describe the app as promoting thin and fit body ideals and harmful dieting and exercise regimens (e.g., see Hobbs et al., 2021).
Research Questions / Hypotheses
The current study aims to discover whether, and in which ways TikTok use is connected to eating disorders and disordered eating symptoms. This study investigated the differences in appearance-based viewing habits between eating disorder and non-eating disorder populations, including whether those with eating disorders were more likely to ‘like’ and comment on appearance-related videos on TikTok, and whether individuals with eating disorders consume a higher percentage of appearance-based content relative to non appearance-related content. We hypothesised that 1) more frequent TikTok use would be associated with more severe eating disorder symptoms, 2) participants with eating disorders would view more appearance-based content, 3) that these individuals would be more likely to ‘like’ and comment on said content, and 4) that individuals with eating disorders would view a higher proportion of appearance-based content compared to individuals without eating disorders.
29 completed, 11 participant exclusions applied.
Participants completed a survey based on their TikTok use and body image. Next they requested their TikTok data from the TikTok app. 3 days later they were prompted to check if this data had been downloaded, then email to the study team. Once the data was sent, participants needed to create an account for data analytic page, unforgettable.me
We expect to find results that align with the above hypotheses.
The study and results will be published via journal. This research serves to inform clinicians, researchers, health workers, and the general public, about the nature of TikTok as it relates to body image and eating disorder symptoms. Eating disorders are a major public health issue - anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental health issue, including depression (Fichter & Quadflieg, 2016). Despite advances in treatment and heightened accessibility to treatment, eating disorder rates are rising in Australia and globally (Galmiche et al., 2019; Paxton et al., 2012). One explanation for this rise is the emphasis placed on body ideals in the media, and the proliferation of social media (Markey, 2004; Stevens & Griffiths, 2020). The knowledge base of how, and for whom, social media impacts body image is growing. However, social media is evolving rapidly, and there is a need for researchers and clinicians to keep pace in order to address the factors that might be contributing to and maintaining eating disorders. For example, effective eating disorder treatments may be undermined if people regularly engage with pro-eating disorder content online (Walstrom, 2000). One social media platform that has received limited empirical attention, and which may pose a particularly high risk to people with eating disorders, is TikTok. The proposed research will provide descriptive information regarding the types of appearance-related content viewed on TikTok, the frequency of appearance-related content, and who is most likely to view such content. We hope that these studies will not only highlight potential risks associated with TikTok use for people's body image but will point to ways of mitigating those risks.