FALSE NEWS / SCOTLAND – Doctors warn about social media link to abortion rise

Image: Hashtags concerning birth control have been viewed hundreds of millions of times

Misinformation about contraception on social media may be contributing to Scotland’s record high abortion figures, doctors have told the BBC.

“The number of terminations carried out in Scotland rose by almost a fifth between 2021 and 2022.

For the first time in 14 years, the number of 16- to 19-year-olds accessing abortion services also increased.

“There are concerns this is being driven in part by false and misleading information on apps such as TikTok.

“Videos on the platform include false claims about hormonal contraception, such as the pill, the implant, the jab and some types of the coil.

“The misinformation online often focuses on side effects. One TikTok video that has been viewed more than 600,000 times falsely claims hormonal birth control can cause infertility and brain tumours.

“Another video posted by an influencer with more than 300,000 followers claims “birth control is this generation’s cigarettes” and “ruins our bodies”.

“Meanwhile the hashtags #naturalbirthcontrol and #quittingbirthcontrol have had hundreds of millions of views.

While the reasons behind Scotland’s record high abortion figures are not entirely clear, and a number of different factors are likely to have contributed, doctors have raised concerns about social media misinformation. Dr Sinead Cook from NHS Grampian is the Scottish chair of the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare. She is worried this content is influencing decisions about contraception, especially among young people. Working in a sexual health clinic in the north east of Scotland, she said she had seen patients who were “terrified of hormonal contraception” because of what they had watched on TikTok. She told BBC Scotland News: “The biggest concern is that social media is encouraging people to either not start contraception or to stop their contraception without really understanding what their other options are.

“The BBC contacted TikTok about some of the videos on its platform that carry misinformation about the side effects of hormonal contraceptives.

“TikTok said it had reviewed the content which had been flagged to it and taken down videos that violated its rules on medical misinformation.

“The numbers of terminations carried out in Scotland rose from 13,937 in 2021 to 16,596 in 2022. The number of 16 to 19-year-olds accessing abortion services also increased from 1,480 in 2021 to 1,899 in 2022…. But the numbers have gone up amongst all people of reproductive age, including amongst young people.”

Editor’s Note: The increased cost of living and waiting times to access contraceptive services are  also likely to be playing a role, as are side effects of methods experienced by some. But the role of social media if it is involved in circulating false news is a serious issue, as there is no regulator who is charged with monitoring it, let alone on a worldwide basis, and posts are reaching millions of young people.

SOURCE: BBC News, by Katie McEvinney, 6 September 2023