A recent study found a disturbing phenomenon behind fitness videos.
Videos promoting harmful steroids and other stimulants are spreading on the video service Tiktok, according to a new study. According to a report by the British Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), in videos with millions of views, young social media influencers often advertise illegal products that are said to improve muscle growth.
Side effects of steroids and stimulants are often not reported. Some videos even instruct people to lie to loved ones about the use of steroids by calling them vitamins.
The target of marketing is often young men who go to the gym.
The study describes the videos as creating unrealistic physical expectations, spreading toxic masculinity and affecting young men’s self-esteem.
The study reports that videos promoting the substances garnered 587 million views in the United States alone over a three-year period. 420 million of them came from users aged 18–24.
CCDH has asked Tiktok for permission to see the share of underage users in the number of views of the said videos. Tiktok did not agree to the request. The organization has also demanded Tiktok to prevent the spread of harmful videos.
Executive Director of CCDH Imran Ahmed tells of the Guardian in an interview that videos trying to define masculinity create problems among young men.
– Young people are told that they are not real men unless they get the bodies of superheroes, which is an impossible thought for most. It hurts their self-esteem. The videos aim to make a financial profit with substances that can lead to death, Ahmed describes.
A feature of Tiktok and many other social platforms is that the user is shown individually more material on a topic that the user has previously been interested in.
– Tiktok’s algorithm is really addictive and dangerous. They need to be careful what kind of material they offer in their recommendations to young people, Ahmed continues.
Tiktok representative Ben Rathe criticizes the research in AP’s news and says that the group that did it did not separate out videos in their sample that talk about steroids in a positive tone, i.e. getting rid of them or their side effects. Rathe still points out that, for example, videos marketing and praising SARM supplements are tried to be deleted when noticed.