More than ever before, Gen Z is turning to TikTok to get their information.
The New York Times reported recently that Gen Z is choosing TikTok over Google - which sounds great until you realize that 1 in 5 videos on the app contain misinformation or misleading information.
And where one hashtag trends, people with opposing viewpoints always have the opportunity to co-opt it, which is exactly what's happened with the TikTok abortion and women's healthcare landscape.
Two movements meant to empower women through expanding their options for birth control have been taken by anti-abortion activists and woo peddlers who have turned them into something entirely different.
How Anti-Abortion Activists Took Over a Movement on TikTok Based on Empowerment
If you look up the #naturalbirthcontrol hashtag on TikTok, you'll find it has over 35 million views. #Gettingoffbirthcontrol has over 3 million. Many doctors and experts have taken to TikTok (such as @mamadoctorjones) to share their expertise and wisdom, and these hashtags are a way for women to learn about options.
Initially, it was meant to be a movement to help women learn about their choices for preventing pregnancy that don't involve hormonal birth control, which can be devastating to the body and cause unpleasant side effects that include blood clots, mood swings, heavy bleeding, no bleeding, depression, headaches, low libido, weight gain and more.
But peppered throughout the videos which offer advice on how to track fertility to avoid pregnancy, are insidious videos that suggest fertility is a blessing, "abortion is murder" and promise woo and pseudoscientific remedies for real health concerns that are not only ineffective but could be dangerous.
DailyDot reports, "Creators are exploiting that, using people’s negative experiences to sell their products and services. Nat is not the only 'cycle awareness coach' using claims about pill side effects to sell courses, private consultations, and 'cycle tracking charts.' Kait is a 'hormone practitioner' selling supplements and a mysterious 'fertility awareness method resource.' Audrey, a 'holistic health coach,' offers 'tips and recipes to lower stress, heal your hormones, and nourish your body!'
Tara Scott MD, an 'integrative GYN' with over 500,000 followers, goes by 'Hormone Guru' on TikTok, where she sells online courses on “How to Revitalize Your Hormones” for $249.
Even more concerningly, many of the TikTok creators promoting non-hormonal methods of birth control have links to religious and anti-abortion activism. Much like the people using birth control side-effects to sell supposedly transformative courses, Christian creators exploit the negative consequences of the pill, and co-opt the language of female empowerment, 'natural healthcare, and medical misogyny to push their own agendas. Lara Freidenfelds, Ph.D., author of The Myth of the Perfect Pregnancy: A History of Miscarriage in America told the Daily Dot that while Catholic advocates for fertility awareness or the rhythm made might not have explicitly teamed up with feminist critics of hormonal birth control, 'they have picked up the critiques and incorporated them into their own arguments about what is ‘natural’ and ‘healthy.’”
For instance, one creator named Sami Parker has 235K followers and her bio reads, "Find all in Jesus. Advocate for the preborn."
Her channel includes a number of videos blasting birth control, but using hashtags that suggest it includes information to help women make healthier choices. It's deceptive at best - dangerous at worst. Parker's channel includes misinformation such as calling birth control pills "abortifacients" and pushing a pro-life rhetoric, all while pretending to be just another "one on one chat" type channel.
Can Anti-Abortion Rhetoric Be Empowering?
Some anti-abortion activists argue that there can be empowerment in their rhetoric, but health experts disagree.
When women cut off one avenue of healthcare - abortions - in favor of a focus on emotional priorities, it becomes a public health concern.
Part of empowerment comes with choice, a core tenet of those who support access to abortions, and certainly running contrary to the "anti-choice" movement.
While ditching hormonal birth control is a valid choice and for many the safest option, using fertility tracking methods to prevent pregnancy comes with risks. The CDC reports that "natural family planning" has a failure rate of over 24% - far higher than the "perfect use" failure rate of most hormonal birth controls, which runs around 99%.
Consuming health information on TikTok is inherently going to come with risks, but when people are dishonest about their intentions it becomes even riskier. When people are looking for information and start to trust influencers to deliver it, those content creators have the responsibility to be forthcoming, honest, and factual - a standard not often met on TikTok.