Minors are being lured into purchasing illicit and possibly dangerous vaping products via fake TikTok accounts.
A recent review of 29 peer-reviewed studies, non surprisingly found that exposure to tobacco and vaping products on social media leads to increased consumption. Published in JAMA Pediatrics, the study consisted of an analysis of surveys from over 139,000 participants across a number of studies, who belonged to different age groups, nationalities, and social media platforms. The analyzed responses indicated that people who viewed social media with tobacco content were more likely to report consuming the products.
Meanwhile, TikTok has been having issues with content moderation, and their latest moderation issue is illegal to vape content. Anonymous accounts have been popping up and promising easy access to disposable vapes, creating a “black market” platform of sorts. In some cases, these profiles link to external websites that allow users to bulk the products in bulk.
To this effect, parents are being warned to pay closer attention to their children’s TikTok accounts. For example, there has been a 15% increase, equating to about 100,000 users, of young people following unofficial Elf Bar accounts, from 557,960 in March to over 650,000 in September 2022.
TikTok struggles with content moderation
Experts have recently highlighted that the reason why TikTok struggles to curb the promotion of vapes is that relies heavily on users reporting content, rather than doing so themselves. “TikTok emphasizes automated methods, stating [in their policy] that it then ‘enables our team to focus more time on reviewing contextual or nuanced content, such as hate speech, bullying, and harassment, and misinformation,” Andrew Childs, a criminology and criminal justice lecturer at Griffith University, as quoted by VICE.
Director of UK online vaping retailer, Vape Club Dan Marchant, highlighted that the worst part about these fake accounts is the fact that the products sold may be unregulated and therefore possibly dangerous.
“It’s worrying that there are so many fake social media accounts posing as retailers. Not only will unscrupulous people sell vaping products to underage users this way, but the products themselves might not even be genuine. Worse still, these fake products could be dangerous.”
Marchant added that reliable sellers have systems in place to avoid sales to minors. “Reputable sellers have safeguards in place to ensure that children can’t buy vaping products. For instance, we conduct full digital age verification on every new customer before we allow an order to go out the door.”