TikTok Tourette’s: Unveiling the Impact of Social Media on Functional Tic-Like Behavior


Tourette’s syndrome (TS) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by the presence of multiple motor tics and at least one phonic tic. These symptoms typically emerge during childhood, and for individuals to be diagnosed with TS, the symptoms must be present for at least a year and manifest before the age of 18. While there is often a decrease in tic frequency during adolescence, it is also considered the most challenging period from a social perspective. Adolescents with TS often experience exclusion from their peers due to tic symptoms, leading to increased social difficulties. Apart from tics, TS is associated with comorbid symptoms such as obsessive-compulsive behavior (OCB), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and mood disorders.

Impairments and Stigmas

The impairments caused by TS can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life. Difficulties with family relationships, making friends, and socialization can be common. Moreover, there is a notable stigma associated with TS. Negative perceptions of TS in the community can lead to bullying and discrimination, with a significant number of parents reporting that their child has been treated differently due to their tics. This societal stigma can also result in self-stigmatization, higher rates of depression and anxiety, and limited career opportunities for adults with TS. Therefore, enhancing education and awareness about TS can play a crucial role in improving the overall well-being and quality of life of individuals with TS.

Rise of Functional Tic-Like Behavior

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a concerning increase in sudden-onset, complex, and disruptive tics with atypical features. Referred to as functional tic-like behavior (FTLB), these tics can arise in individuals with no prior history of tics and can further complicate the course of those with known tics and TS. The unique features of FTLB suggest that it may be a distinct disorder separate from typical organic tics. Recent observations indicate that the isolation and stress caused by the pandemic, coupled with exposure to inaccurate portrayals of tics on social media, could be contributing factors to this rise in FTLB.

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The Role of Social Media

Social media platforms, such as TikTok, have gained immense popularity among adolescents. However, there are concerns that these platforms might inadvertently perpetuate misperceptions of TS, exacerbating the stigma associated with the condition. Inaccurate portrayals of tics on social media could potentially influence vulnerable individuals, leading to the development of FTLB. Therefore, it is crucial to educate not only the general public but also those presenting with functional tics that are largely influenced by social media. By doing so, we can decrease stigma, improve the quality of life for individuals with TS, and enhance outcomes for those with functional tics.


In conclusion, the complex relationship between social media, the COVID-19 pandemic, and tic-related disorders requires careful evaluation. The rise in FTLB necessitates a deeper understanding of the impact of social media on vulnerable individuals, particularly adolescents. By increasing awareness, educating the public, and dispelling misconceptions, we can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for those affected by TS and related conditions.

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