FDA warns of ‘NyQuil Chicken’ TikTok trend as misinformation battle continues


Just when we thought the specter of the Tide Pods challenge was behind us, there’s another TikTok trend to worry about: the NyQuil Chicken challenge. In this recent social media phenomenon, people are cooking chicken breasts in cough syrup.

The trend, which likely started as a hoax, has gone viral and raised enough concerns about the dangers of actually cooking with NyQuil that it has prompted the Food and Drug Administration to issue an advisory on it this week.

“The challenge sounds silly and unsavory — and it is,” the FDA said in a statement. “But it could also be very unsafe. Boiling a drug can make it much more concentrated and change its properties in other ways.”

— Mearn (@mearn) September 20, 2022

While the NyQuil chicken challenge may be gross, it’s not the first or last potentially dangerous health trend to hit social media. The FDA has grappled with such sentiments before.

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For example, a previous TikTok challenge encouraged people to take significant doses of diphenhydramine, an allergy medication, or other non-prescription medications.

However, these challenges are all part of a larger trend involving the proliferation of health misinformation on social media platforms in recent years, due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic and the popularity of apps like TikTok.

According to Jeffrey Blevins, a professor in the University of Cincinnati’s Department of Journalism and School of Public and International Affairs, much of the problem lies in a lack of regulation.

“That’s the kind of thing that TikTok could moderate, although I think TikTok has been a bit reluctant to do that compared to other social media platforms,” ​​Blevins noted. “It seems like more controversial things have involved TikTok lately.”

A recent NewsGuard report found that nearly 20% of videos appearing in search results on TikTok contain misinformation.

Other big tech platforms that have come under fire for health misinformation and disinformation in general in recent years — including YouTube and Facebook — have attempted to make some strides in tackling misinformation.

However, TikTok’s self-regulation has been generally lacking, although it states on its website that it will “remove misinformation that causes significant harm to individuals, our community, or the broader public, regardless of intent,” including medical misinformation.

On the political side, there is currently no government regulation of social media platforms regarding misinformation. However, this is not due to a lack of attempts.

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In July 2021, spurred by rampant anti-vaccination sentiment online, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced a bill aimed at removing liability protections for big tech companies like Facebook and Twitter if misinformation continues to spread on their platforms. Lacking bipartisan support, the bill has stalled.

Other attempts to prevent some regulation of social media companies have failed, Blevins said.

The lack of regulation “prevents authorities like the FDA from reaching out to TikTok and saying, ‘Hey, this is problematic,'” Blevins said.

This leaves the FDA with its current option: create the messaging itself. However, there is a small problem with the messaging remaining in the hands of the FDA.

“The reason a lot of their earlier approaches are ineffective is because they approach the problem the way a professor would: Here is information, here are facts, here are simple things,” Blevins said.

He continued, “People are more likely to respond to emotional content than anything else on social media. I would encourage the FDA to come up with funnier and more creative ways to make this point [NyQuil Chicken] is not a good idea. Maybe make fun of it. Young people in particular respond to humor and scathing remarks.”

dr Jenny Yu, who leads the medical affairs team at Healthline Media, stressed that agencies like the FDA or even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention need to package creativity and science in a way that news can reach people with different ways of consuming information.

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“An agency like the FDA has to keep up with changing cultural trends,” Yu said. “Creative agencies use creativity, an expressive voice in an empathetic way, and medical information that is evidence-based and peer-reviewed.”

In the absence of government regulation or self-regulation by companies, responsibility rests with public stakeholders, parents, and educators alongside the FDA, Blevins noted. In this case, there could be a role for NGOs or public interest groups to provide informative, creative content to offset trend misinformation.

Ultimately, even if the NyQuil chicken challenge falls by the wayside, there is a clear pattern of health misinformation trending across social media platforms.

Some of this – like when hydroxychloroquine was promoted as a treatment for COVID-19 – is steeped in cultural politics and is likely to continue so long as there is no corporate or political self-regulation.

“My thoughts are always going to, what’s next? What’s in the tube?’ said Blevins. “I encourage people not to think of these things as one-time things — like, ‘Thank God we’re over NyQuil Chicken now.’ No, there is a pattern of medical misinformation that could be pretty [damaging long-term].”

This story first appeared on mmm-online.com.





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