“Tictok” and How Social Media Created Mass Hysteria


Caroline Restrepo, Writer

Doctors worldwide have seen an influx of teenagers- especially teen girls- with symptoms of the uncommon Tourette’s Syndrome. This neurological disorder causes involuntary movements and noises. Movement-disorder doctors didn’t understand what the root of the outbreak could be. The girls did not have past traumatic head injuries, no family history of neurological disorders, and they were not all found in one place.

There was only one thing connecting them: TikTok.

Every otherwise healthy teen reporting tics also reported using the popular social media app frequently to view Tourette’s-related content. The app’s data reflects their situation. Views of the #tourettes tag increased from 1.25 billion views in January to 4.8 billion views. Many of the short videos highlight a fun, less harmful side of the neurological disorder. There are popular videos of people attempting to cook or recite the alphabet while their tics interrupt them. Although they didn’t intend to cause harm, popular creators with Tourette’s are being held responsible for the influx. However, a large number of teenagers had another thing in common. They began exhibiting symptoms during the pandemic alongside depression or anxiety.

During the time away from friends and society, rates of depression and anxiety in teenagers rose dramatically. They missed an essential part of social development while isolated. They looked for belonging in online spaces like the #tictok community. This resulted in what doctors describe as a “mass social media-induced illness” like famous cases of mass hysteria in the past. One that many may be familiar with is the 1939 incident in Bellevue, Louisiana.

A high school girl developed a leg twitch that spread to other students. The research discovered that a combination of stress and subconscious desires for attention was to blame for the twitching. Similar to the teens with tics, the girls in Louisiana had nothing medically wrong with them. While research is still being done, it is possible isolation and lack of attention caused these tics in a significant portion of girls.

While the girls may appear to be problematic on the surface, it is important to note that they are not faking their symptoms. The girls are experiencing “functional tics” that are difficult to control and suppress. Stigmatizing their actions will not keep them from displaying signs. It won’t relieve the underlying anxiety and depression many of them face.

Doctors have suggested that girls experiencing tics should seek help for their mental health and, most importantly, take a break from TikTok and Tourette’s-related content. Even if reducing the use of social media doesn’t cure the tics, there’s substantial evidence showing it lessens feelings of depression and loneliness that are so prevalent in girls. In a fast-paced society pushing equally short content, the solution may be to take a break.