Short-form video-sharing app TikTok has seen a rapid rise in popularity in the last year, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been concern about misinformation, especially about the virus, circulating on the app — heightened by the fact it has a youthful userbase. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said they are fighting an ‘infodemic’ – an excess of information making it impossible for the consumer to discern truthful content – alongside the global pandemic COVID-19.
However, alongside misinformation, medical professionals are also popular content creators on TikTok. Even before the pandemic, informal channels circulating health information were a popular trend on TikTok, with doctors, nurses, psychiatrists and other health professionals becoming influencers, turning medical advice into 15-second infotainment.
In this UNSW Centre for Social Research in Health seminar, Clare Southerton will discuss a digital ethnography project, in which she analysed and observed health professionals on TikTok in order to consider what could be learned about the ‘infodemic’ from existing health content creators on the platform. Findings from this ethnography reveal that health information sharing practices on TikTok use playfulness, memes, and other platform elements, alongside familiar techniques of highlighting one’s expertise and relatability as a healthcare worker.
Clare Southerton is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Vitalities Lab, Social Policy Research Centre and Centre for Social Research in Health, UNSW Sydney. Her research explores the intersections between social media and digital technologies, and issues related to intimacy, sexuality, privacy, and health. Her work has been published in New Media & Society, Social Media + Society and the Journal of Sociology.
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