For decades, sex education in the classroom could be pretty cringey. For some adolescents, it meant a pitch for abstinence; others watched their teachers put condoms on bananas and attempt sketches of fallopian tubes that looked more like modern art.
Emma Goldberg of New York Times writes that on TikTok – which my children are still trying to explain to me — sex ed is being flipped on its head. Teenagers who load the app might find guidance set to the pulsing beat of “Sex Talk” by Megan Thee Stallion.
A doctor, sporting scrubs and grinning into her camera, instructs them on how to respond if a condom breaks during sex: The pill Plan B can be 95 percent effective, the video explains.
The video is the work of Dr. Danielle Jones, a gynecologist in College Station, Tex., and so far has racked up over 11 million views. Comments range from effusive (“this slaps”) to eye-rolling (“thanks for the advice mom” and “ma’am, I’m 14 years old”).
“My TikTok presence is like if you had a friend who just happens to be an OB/GYN,” Dr. Jones said. “It’s a good way to give information to people who need it and meet them where they are.”
Dr. Jones is one of many medical professionals working their way through the rapidly expanding territory of TikTok, the Chinese-owned short-form video app, to counter medical misinformation to a surging audience. The app has been downloaded 1.5 billion times as of November, according to SensorTower, with an audience that skews young; 40 percent of its users are ages 16 to 24.
That would be the food service audience. Guess I better get hip.
I’ve learned to text more. Seems like an entire generation missed e-mail.
Although medical professionals have long taken to social media to share healthy messages or promote their work, TikTok poses a new set of challenges, even for the internet adept. Popular posts on the app tend to be short, musical and humorous, complicating the task of physicians hoping to share nuanced lessons on health issues like vaping, coronavirus, nutrition and things you shouldn’t dip in soy sauce. And some physicians who are using the platform to spread credible information have found themselves the targets of harassment.
Dr. Rose Marie Leslie, a family medicine resident physician at the University of Minnesota Medical School, said TikTok provided an enormous platform for medical public service announcements.
“It has this incredible viewership potential that goes beyond just your own following,” she said.
Striking a chord on TikTok, Dr. Leslie said, means tailoring medical messaging to the app’s often goofy form. In one post, she advised viewers to burn calories by practicing a viral TikTok dance. She takes her cues from teen users, who often use the app to offer irreverent, even slapstick commentary on public health conversations. She noted one trend in which young TikTokers brainstormed creative ways to destroy your e-cigarette, like running it over with a car.
TikTok’s executives have welcomed the platform’s uses for medical professionals. “It’s been inspiring to see doctors and nurses take to TikTok in their scrubs to demystify the medical profession,” said Gregory Justice, TikTok’s head of content programming.
Earlier this month, Dr. Nicole Baldwin, a pediatrician in Cincinnati, posted a TikTok listing the diseases that are preventable with vaccines and countering the notion that vaccines cause autism.
Her accounts on TikTok, Twitter, Facebook and Yelp were flooded with threatening comments, including one that labeled her “Public Enemy #1” and another that read, “Dead doctors don’t lie.”
A team of volunteers that is helping Dr. Baldwin monitor her social media has banned more than 5,200 users from her Facebook in recent weeks.
Dr. Baldwin said she started out feeling enthusiastic about the opportunity TikTok provides to educate adolescents, but her experience with harassment gave her some pause.
“There’s a fine line physicians are walking between trying to get a message out that will appeal to this younger generation without being inappropriate or unprofessional,” Dr. Baldwin said. “Because of the short content and musical aspect of TikTok, what adolescents are latching onto is not the professional persona we typically put out there.”