In the last few years, TikTok has grown to become one of the most popular video-sharing apps and this is especially true with teenagers. Concerns over certain types of content that might influence teenagers using the app resulted in the decision by TikTok to ban advertisements for plastic surgery procedures. Even with these restrictions in place, plastic surgeons seem to have found a way to get around the rules of the app in order to promote their services.
In order to determine the accuracy of these concerns, a website that focuses on lifestyle articles, Insider.com, created a TikTok account to see how long it would take for a plastic surgery ad to appear in their feed.
Insider created a TikTok account and set the age of the “person” at 14-years-old. They started to use the app and, after only eight minutes of use, a video for a plastic surgeon based in the United States appeared on the “For You” page of the account. This page is where users can find a personalized feed of videos relevant to their interests on the app.
Plastic surgery is one of the most popular hashtag categories on the app as #plasticsurgery has over 3.8-billion views on TikTok. When conducting a deeper search of plastic surgery procedures, it has become clear that rhinoplasty is one of the most popular searches. The hashtags, #nosejobcheck and #nosejob, both bring video results that show “before and after” clips of nasal surgery. These videos have over one billion views for each hashtag.
The videos are about 15-seconds in length and usually showcase the appearance of the nose before surgery as well as the post-surgery bandages and the nose that has been reshaped.
Because of the popularity of these trending hashtags, these videos appear on the “For You” pages of millions of people that use TikTok. Since the “For You” feed includes a wide range of recommended and popular content, plastic surgeons use it to market their services and appear on the pages of potential patients.
This also means that some of the people that receive this content in their feeds are normally too young to have plastic surgery since the app is popular with teenagers. In fact, 32.5% of all TikTok users are under the age of 19 (according to the consumer data agency Statista).
Even though TikTok requires its users to be at least 13 years of age, there is no age verification method so those younger than 13 can still use the app.
In addition, TikTok has an infrastructure that prevents minors from being able to view content that is deemed to be “unsuitable” for them. However, plastic surgery ads that do not violate the community standards of the platform, and are not paid advertisements, are technically allowed to be on the app. In other words, if the videos are not considered to contain “gore” or any content of a graphic nature, they are not considered to go against the rules set by TikTok.
After Insider ran their experiment with a new TikTok account, they spoke with Dr. Antonis Kousoulis, a direct at the Mental Health Foundation. Dr. Kousoulis feels that promoting cosmetic surgery procedures to minors is a troubling trend. He told the website, “Whether it's through paid promotion or medical practitioners using hashtags, we think it's completely unacceptable and inappropriate that videos like these are reaching young people under the age of 18."
He added, “A lot of the time, these operations are promoted based on wellbeing, saying that they will improve how you will feel about yourself. I would like medical practitioners to be more conscious of who might see their content and to show more thoughtfulness to psychological reasons as to why people are seeking these operations. We know that a lot of these clinics use fairly predatory techniques when it comes to self-promoting their work and that is a concern.”
In recent months, TikTok has made efforts to protect minors from being able to view videos that might have a negative impact on their self-esteem such as banning ads for weight-loss supplements and fasting applications.
Even though a spokesperson for TikTok has said the platform has banned cosmetic surgery advertisements, the official ad guidelines that can be found on their website states these ads are only banned in Brazil, Mexico and Taiwan.
In addition, videos for hashtags such as #nosejobcheck are not normally classified as ads. They are considered to be content and are acceptable as long as they do not go against any community guidelines.
If parents are worried about their kids having access to these cosmetic surgery videos, they recommend parents enable “Restricted Mode” on these accounts. This enables parents to limit the appearance of content they feel is not appropriate for their children.
Even though the idea of “Restricted Mode” is a good one, the team at Insider activated this feature on their account to see what would happen. After six minutes of scrolling in “Restricted Mode”, an ad for a successful tummy tuck appeared on the app feed.