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Pushing prescription drugs to teens as diet pills sparks controversy over TikTok algorithm

Recently, a foreign media registered a new account with information showing that it is a 16-year-old girl. When using this account to search under the topic of TikTok #diet medicine#, it was found that nearly one-third of the first 100 videos were found. One is promoting diet pills, and some videos show prescription drugs for epilepsy and migraines. Some videos flagged to TikTok by the account were later removed by the platform.


In 2020, TikTok updated its policy to prohibit advertisements for fasting apps and diet pills, and limit the advertisement of weight management products to adult users. However, some foreign media can still find videos selling diet pills on TikTok using test accounts. To show obvious weight loss, some users are still making video diaries while taking diet pills, or sharing before and after photos.


Health care experts say unresearched dietary claims can be dangerous for adults and teens alike.


TikTok declined to comment but told some media outlets that the platform does not allow the promotion or trade of prescription diet pills and that content that violates the policy will be removed.


In January 2022, TikTok and Instagram shut down ads linking obesity and ADHD, which said patients could "stop overeating" by treating ADHD.


TikTok has been forced to respond to harmful dieting content on its platform in the past. In 2021, a media report detailed how TikTok’s algorithms put young girls at risk by watching diet and weight loss videos. The story came a day after TikTok announced it was working on "diversifying recommendations" so users wouldn't be overwhelmed by a stream of similar content.

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