TikTok Tics: A Pandemic Within a Pandemic

Mov Disord Clin Pract. 2021 Aug 9;8(8):1200-1205. doi: 10.1002/mdc3.13316. eCollection 2021 Nov.


Background: TikTok is a social media platform where users create and share videos. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of this site greatly expanded. Tic and Tourette syndrome content also increased dramatically along with the number of patients with tics in neurology clinics.

Objectives: We compared the phenomenology of "TikTok tics" to typical tic disorders. We chose to analyze the most widely viewed videos and therefore focused on the most popular content creators.

Methods: Videos with the keywords "tic," "Tourette," or "tourettes" were reviewed to identify content creators between March 11, 2020 and March 30, 2021. We performed a quantitative assessment of TikTok tics as well as a descriptive analysis of the entire series of videos of each content creator.

Results: The mean age of the cohort was 18.8 years old, and the majority were women. Unlike the predominance of facial movements in typical tics, arm movements were most frequent. Average tics per minute was 29, and almost all recorded TikTok tics were severe, causing significant disability. Whereas coprolalia and self-injurious behavior are only infrequently encountered in typical tic disorders, they were present in the overwhelming majority of TikTok subjects.

Conclusions: TikTok tics are distinct from what is typically seen in patients with Tourette syndrome, although share many characteristics with functional tics. We believe this to be an example of mass sociogenic illness, which involves behaviors, emotions, or conditions spreading spontaneously through a group. A modern clinician needs to remain abreast of social media sources as knowledge of media content is essential in managing patients in the current environment.

Keywords: COVID; Tourette syndrome; functional neurological disorder; social media; tics.