TikTok is running ‘predatory’ advertisements from companies that oversimplify ADHD, watchdog group says


A report from the watchdog group Media Matters found predatory ads about ADHD on TikTok. 
  • A new Media Matters report said researchers reviewed multiple “predatory” ADHD ads on TikTok.
  • One ad told viewers who were “spacey, forgetful, or chatty” to consider a diagnosis, the report said.
  • The Media Matters report followed a similar report from NBC News in January.

TikTok allowed “predatory” advertisements that “oversimplify” Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to run on the platform, according to a new report from the watchdog group Media Matters, which said its researchers reviewed a number of such videos on the platform.

“The ads seem to be capitalizing on the TikTok phenomenon of ADHD self-diagnosis, in which some creators oversimplify the disorder, leading viewers to try to decide themselves whether they have the disorder, sometimes incorrectly,” Media Matters wrote in its Tuesday report.

TikTok did not return Insider’s request for comment.

Media Matters researchers said they found an ad from the online mental health company Cerebral that said people who are “spacey, forgetful, or chatty” should consider seeking an ADHD diagnosis and care.

A screenshot of a Cerebral ad shared by Media Matters told viewers: “you can take control of your ADHD.”

Media Matters researchers said another company, Done, appeared to target young users because its ads prominently featured younger individuals, including one video that featured an 18-year-old who said being “lazy” and having depression could be symptoms of ADHD, among other possible characteristics.

Done describes itself on its website as “personalized online treatment for ADHD.”

Neither Cerebral nor Done respond to Insider’s requests for comment.

TikTok has a large ADHD subculture, as Insider previously reported, which includes videos from people who share about their lives with the disorder and others who describe what symptoms they have to inform viewers. The hashtag “ADHD” has over 9 billion views on the platform.

Experts, however, have warned against using TikTok videos to self-diagnose mental-health disorders, including ADHD.

“An informal diagnosis can explain a lot of people’s symptoms in a way that comforts them,” Matthew Haring, a psychologist at North Shore Center for ADHD, told Additude Magazine. “But it skips over all the steps needed to really target and treat the underlying cause.”

Some of the main symptoms of ADHD, according to the Mayo Clinic, are “difficulty paying attention, impulsiveness and restlessness.” However, there are many different symptoms and certain ones “are similar to those caused by other conditions, such as anxiety or mood disorders,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

An online test or short doctor’s visit is not an effective way of discerning whether or not someone has ADHD, according to the Attention Deficit Disorder Association, which says on its website that a proper evaluation “usually takes more than one visit, and must be done by a professional who is trained” in ADHD.

The Media Matters report followed an NBC News report published in late January that said that TikTok removed multiple Cerebral ads from its platform after the outlet asked the platform about them.

One ad featured a woman with unhealthy food around her and text that said “those who live by impulse, eat by impulse,” appearing to encourage viewers to get ADHD treatment so they would “stop overeating,” according to NBC News.

“TikTok has strict policies to protect users from fake, fraudulent, misleading or harmful ads, and in this case, we removed two of Cerebral’s ads for violating our body image policies,” a TikTok spokesperson told NBC News in January.

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