WASHINGTON — A TikTok army of American moms claiming to be “detox” specialists is pushing unproven treatments for childhood behavioural disorders — while hiding that their misinformation is actually a marketing campaign aimed at making money.
Influencers with a large following, these mothers typically cite personal testimonies to passionately endorse detox sprays or bath treatments, claiming without evidence that they help rid children of toxins such as heavy metals and parasites.
Their videos, which often garner millions of views on platforms including TikTok, illustrate how unqualified nutrition influencers deftly skirt content moderation rules to peddle potentially harmful health misinformation that experts say is difficult to police.
Claiming to have the answer to mood swings, picky eating and even autism, the influencers are accused of preying on desperate parents and reaping financial rewards through what researchers call predatory multi-level marketing (MLM) schemes.
MLMs are banned on TikTok.
Danica Walker, a self-styled “detoxification specialist” holds up a spray in one video and claims it helped cure her toddler’s “mood issues” within weeks.
Like dozens of similar endorsements on her account, this video is not marked as an advertisement.
But a website linked in her TikTok bio directs users to a company that bears the hallmarks of MLM, a form of direct sales using independent contractors. It sells detox products, including the spray in Ms Walker’s video, and recruits new sales representatives through an “affiliate program”.
Neither Ms Walker nor the MLM company responded to AFP’s request for comment.
Comments under her video such as “Did you get paid for this?” and “It didn’t work for me & it was so expensive” did not elicit a public response from Ms Walker.
AFP examined around a dozen of what appeared to be a flood of TikTok accounts of influencer moms promoting scientifically unproven detox products.
The accounts appear to violate TikTok’s community guidelines. Without commenting on the detox influencers, a TikTok spokeswoman told AFP: “Our community guidelines make clear that we don’t allow MLM.”
Two accounts, including Ms Walker’s, were deactivated immediately after AFP flagged them to the spokeswoman.