Bizarre videos of people faking tick infestations keep getting million of views, despite some doctors' best efforts to try to debunk them

Screenshots of the TikToks.
Hashtags affiliated with these fake videos have accumulated 821 million TikTok views.Screenshots from TikTok
  • On TikTok, videos of fake "tick" infestations have become an immensely viral genre.

  • Dermatologists are trying to debunk them, as some believe the "ticks" are simply beans or other props.

  • The misleading videos are leaving viewers baffled and disgusted — but they seem to be coming back for more.

TikTok, a breeding ground where all sorts of oddly satisfying content thrive, is now swarming with videos of people trying to make it seem like they have a plate of ticks attached to their skin.

"I get very itchy," reads a caption on one such clip from March, which has been viewed more than 28 million times. It shows a person scratching at red and white lumps that appear to be attached to their skin.

Creators across foreign countries have been posting these videos and calling the lumps "lice" or "ticks." Some post their clips under the tag #hhanbrolice, which has 828 million cumulative TikTok views.

In most of these clips, the "ticks" are clustered on a person's body, mainly on their arm or leg, but sometimes on their face or even inside their ears. As the users scratch at the lumps, they often fall off, but sometimes they are plucked off with tweezers. Some commenters said they've noticed a clear substance attached to them that they believe to be glue.

Doctors on the app have been diligently trying to debunk these viral stunts. One TikTok-famous dermatologist told Insider that TikTokers continue to view them — despite probably knowing that they're fake — because they have an "oddly satisfying" allure to them.

Doctors are convinced the 'ticks' in these videos are just beans

Dr. Dustin Portela is one of many dermatologists on TikTok who make content debunking or explaining skin treatment videos that circulate on the app.

In September 2022, he reacted to a video of someone who appeared to be playing a doctor and treating a fake infestation. He came to the same conclusion about the "ticks" that several other professionals who reacted to these clips have: they're probably beans.

"Somehow, this doctor can't tell the difference between a tick stuck on a leg and a legume," Portela quipped in his response.

@drdustinportela Not sure what the purpose of this is, but it’s clearly fake #tickremoval #tick #doctor ♬ original sound - Dr. Dustin Portela

Portela told Insider there are several clues in these clips that suggest they are not real tick markings.

First, when the "ticks" fall off or are plucked off, they don't leave behind any blood or rashes, which is common for the condition. And secondly, the fact that these "ticks" are concentrated in one section of the body is "definitely not possible" in real life, he said.

"It's possible to go hiking or camping and come home and have two or three ticks attached to you, but they're going to be in different areas of the body," Portela said. "It actually takes quite a while for a tick to get on you and attach and actually be secure enough that it's not falling off. That process doesn't happen quickly."

Another giveaway, he noted, is the hashtag #hhanbrolice, which is not the name of a real lice species.

"They're creating a new bug that nobody's ever heard of," Portela said.

Given the overwhelming evidence of the fabrication of these clips, doctors on TikTok have been quick to debunk or poke fun at them. Some, however, said the videos could ironically create more skin issues.

@teawithmd #duet with @damboikjong @teawithmd Please tell me you didn’t fall for this. What will social media think of next? #dermbypark ♬ Paradise - TELL YOUR STORY music by Ikson™

Dr. Joyce Park, a dermatologist with 553,000 TikTok followers, called the phenomenon "alarming" in a video earlier this month. Park said if creators are using an adhesive like glue to fake these ticks, it can cause a "nasty allergy," and the process of removing the props could cause "irritation" to the skin when done aggressively.

Portela, however, hypothesizes that creators could be using costume glue, which is intended for use on skin, and that while there is always a risk of irritation, that risk is somewhat mild.

He's more concerned about the larger social outfalls of these fake videos. "It could foster some xenophobia around certain cultures or areas that people might want to travel to," he told Insider, "where they think, 'oh, maybe I don't want to go there because there's a risk of getting these types of things'."

The misleading videos continue to baffle viewers — as they come back for more

Portela told Insider he thinks these videos attract so much attention because they are "grossly satisfying" to watch and also have a "novelty factor."

"When you encounter something you've never seen before, you get a bit of wonderment from that," he said.

Commenters certainly seem intrigued and concerned by the genre. "This makes my skin crawl," a top commenter wrote in April. "My body is itching everywhere," another person added.

Still, recent fake tick videos continue to accumulate tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of views each. Insider has reached out to four of the top accounts posting content like this.

Portela said he is encouraged that many commenters appear to be noticing these videos are fake and don't point to a real medical condition, but added that he is concerned the genre could produce prejudice and xenophobia since they mostly appear to be filmed in developing countries.

 

This isn't the first time misinformation about life in developing countries has spread on TikTok. In March 2022, clips of an elderly man in Thailand went hugely viral alongside false claims that he was the oldest person in history. A month later, police in Kenya had to debunk claims that people came upon a "real mermaid" on the beach.

Insider has also reached out to TikTok for comment.

For more stories like this, check out coverage from Insider's Digital Culture team here.

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